Craft Talk Preview: Courtney Kersten Talks Memoirs and Reality


By Emilia Hurst

I recently had the chance to speak with Courtney Kersten, the author of Daughter in Retrograde, a memoir forthcoming in the spring of 2018.  Find out what she has to say about writing and her upcoming craft talk!

Emilia Hurst: What are some tips you wish you had known when you first started writing?

Courtney Kersten:  If I could’ve spoken to myself then, I would’ve told myself to be patient, to know that your work will take revision and lots of insight and occasionally major overhauls to feel anywhere near “complete.” I would’ve told myself that letting your work “marinate,” so to speak, to put it in a drawer and not look at it for a while, will help you see your work with new eyes when you return to it. Suddenly, wacky sentences will stick out, moments too slow or too quickly paced will be glaringly obvious, and the path towards revision will seem clearer. I wish I would’ve known that often clarity and concision trumps gimmicks of language and form.

Why did you decide to write nonfiction instead of fiction? Do you have a preference between the two?

Courtney Kersten:  I guess I didn’t really make a concrete decision to write fiction rather than nonfiction. I suppose the kind of stories I had always found myself drawn to were nonfictional. I don’t prefer one genre over the other—fiction can intervene in nonfiction; what is fictional can be nonfictional on the level of emotion or in other ways. I think the boundary between the two genres is fascinating and complex.

Can you tell us a little more about what we can expect from this craft talk?

Courtney Kersten:  You can expect a little reading from the memoir. You can expect to hear about process and the major questions I had to answer in writing this memoir and how it shaped the book on the level of form and content. You can expect to hear about rendering the Midwest in language. You’ll hear my Midwestern accent come through.

What are some memoirs that you really enjoy?

Courtney Kersten:  I love Kim Barnes’ work. I love Sarah Manguso’s work. Micah Perks’ Pagan Time showed me new way to envision memoir. In writing Daughter in Retrograde, I was particularly influenced by Joan Wickersham’s The Suicide Index—it’s a brilliant memoir. There are also lots of poets, fiction writers, and essayists I love too. Reading Jo Ann Beard’s collection of essays was what hooked me into writing nonfiction. I love Gloria Anzaldúa work. Leslie Marmon Silko is fabulous. Svetlana Alexievich’s work is amazing. I’m grateful for the chance to learn from other writer’s work.

And you, dear reader, can look forward to learning from her work!  Be sure to swing by the Local Store at 7PM on Thursday March 22 to hear Courtney Kersten’s craft talk, “Rendering Reality: Writing with Honesty and Complexity in Memoir.”