You should really read: Live Through This

Former Oregonian reporter Debra Gwartney has recently published Live Through This, a memoir describing her relationship with her daughters–a relationship that grows from turbulence to profound love. Her shorter writings have been featured in People magazine, and the New York Times. She also serves on the nonfiction writing faculty at Portland State University. Noon and 3 pm (panel moderator) Saturday, Oct. 10. University of Oregon Nonfiction Stage.

What's your personal writing ritual? Candles and a MacBook Pro? Lots of freshly sharpened pencils?

I like to write scenes first—little snippets or flashes of memory that I get down on paper in somewhat skeletal form. Then I go out and take a walk, bake some banana bread, go swimming, drink a glass of wine, something like that, and let whatever I've written that day ruminate. Sometimes a story starts to gel in my mind, sometimes not.

What are your favorite themes to write about (or that you're most guilty of rehashing)?

My relationship with my daughters—hashed, hashed and rehashed. Family dynamic in general pulls me in.

What authors made you want to pick up a pen in the first place, and why?

Vivian Gornick, Phillip Lopate, Eva Hoffman, Novikov (Speak, Memory), so many others.

Fight Club time: If you could fight one author (or critic), who would it be and why?

Off the top of my head, I guess I'd offer to fight J.M. Coetzee, because he seems extraordinarily quiet and nonviolent—I'm not into fisticuffs myself, so maybe we could just have tea and I could tell him how brilliant I think he is.

Name a book you think is highly overrated. Be honest.

Oh dear, eek. I hate to say it, but I guess I will. Angela's Ashes.

Dream project:

The one I'm working on and hope to finish before I'm out of here.

Most recent nightmare:

It featured a mountain lion and it was scary as hell.

Your cure for writer's block:

To read poetry, especially Sharon Olds, Philip Levine, Dorianne Laux, Jack Gilbert.

Pessimistic question: Will you keep writing even after people stop reading?

I have a big family, so I guess I'll always have a few readers. I won't charge them very much for the books.

Cautiously optimistic question: Obama? Discuss.

At dinner a few nights ago, sitting at one of those communal tables Portland restaurants are fond of, a doctor (with a real quiver in his voice) next to me said, "I fear for my country because that Obama took over. He'll be the end of us." I turned away. Nothing left to say to that guy.

Share one thing you've had to change in your everyday life thanks to our current recession.

I eat at restaurants with communal tables. (Not really—those tend to be the expensive ones.)

Please paste a short paragraph from a story, poem, article, blog post etc. you're currently working on:

"One day in the autumn of 1978 I was traveling from Boise toward the town of Moscow across the vast and largely unpopulated state of Idaho. I was in a car with three others, all of us on our way back to school after vacation, returning to a public institution that our parents were certain would reinforce, would encourage, the Western ideal in which we'd been raised. We drove the curved highway, through the switchbacks of White Bird Hill and, some miles later, the twisty-turns of Lewiston Grade. I crossed my arms over my stomach, closed my eyes, and held back an inevitable queasiness by anticipating the flatter landscape ahead—over the last pass, I knew, lay the variations of yellow, the textures, the subtle relief of the stretch of land known as the Palouse. The North Idaho edge of the Palouse, that is, with its far edge in eastern Oregon— a region of subtle humps and hollows formed during the last ice age and made fertile from a glacial silt known as loess, soil that turns out to be perfect for the dryland farming of what seemed to me back in my youth as acres and acres and endless acres of wheat."