I FIRST ENCOUNTERED MARY SOJOURNER’S writing when I lived in Colorado in the early 2000s. Her work was often grouped with other Western luminaries such as Rick Bass and Craig Childs, voices for conservation and individualism in a rapidly changing West.
She remains a huge inspiration, and it’s been insanely gratifying to work with her over the years as a colleague and friend. In addition to writing, she’s been teaching writing for over 25 years; I’m thrilled to announce she’ll be joining MatadorU as guest faculty beginning this July.
In anticipation of her teaching at the U, I asked Mary a few questions:
What is your micro-condensed “story” as a writer and teacher?
I road-tripped alone to the Southwest in 1983 and met another wanderer at Canyon de Chelly. We sat on the edge of the canyon eating Navajo tacos and drinking bootleg beer. I watched the shadow stretch out from Spider Grandmother Rock and said, “There is more beauty here than I ever could have imagined.” He said, “As much as you love this, you need to read The Monkey Wrench Gang, by Ed Abbey.”
Three days later on my way back east, I found Aradia Bookstore in Flagstaff, Az., bought Ed’s book and read it on the long and reluctant trip home — to a home that was no longer home. Since then I’ve written two novels, Sisters of the Dream (1989) and Going Through Ghosts; the short story collection, Delicate; essay collection, Bonelight: ruin and grace in the new southwest; memoir, Solace: rituals of loss and desire; and memoir/self-help guide, She Bets Her Life.
I was a national NPR commentator and write countless essays, columns and op eds for High Country News, Yoga Journal, Writers on the Range and dozens of other publications. I teach writing, in private circles, one-on-one, at colleges and universities, writing conferences and book festivals. I believe in both the limitations and possibilities of healing. Writing is the most powerful tool I’ve found for doing what is necessary to mend — ourselves and more essentially, the battered earth. I live in Flagstaff, Arizona, in the shadow of the Sacred Mountains.
What do you consider the most difficult part of teaching writing?
Meeting fine writers who are so busy busy busy that they can’t take time to write. We are in the grip of a national epidemic of busyness. It is also often necessary for me to bring my students out into the natural world. I love that part.
How does your experience as a traveler impact your vision for writing / teaching?
Damn near everything I’ve written since I began full-time writing in 1986 — raised three kids by myself before then — has emerged from a place on this earth. Without place, our stories are dead.
To work with Mary this July, please visit MatadorU.
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