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An Interview with Tara DaPra 

Interview conducted by AprilJo Murphy 

AprilJo Murphy (AJM): Welcome, Tara, to our humble little webspace at American Literary Review. I was so impressed – dazed even – with your essay “Writing Memoir and Writing for Therapy” in Creative Nonfiction that I quite literally threw the magazine across the room several times during the process of reading it. Your ability to have such a poignant perspective about grief and creation – to not let it overtake your authorial voice and become too painful for a reader – shows a mastery of subject and distance that floors me. Or, literally, astounded me enough to end up on the floor.

Could you tell me a little bit about your writing process? How do let your material breathe? Do you have a routine, or are there authors whose work you read to inspire you? 

Tara DaPra (TD): “Writing Memoir and Writing for Therapy” begin as my “thesis essay,” a literary essay I wrote in 2008 to complement my MFA thesis. But I was rushed for time (I was also trying to complete a manuscript!) and knew it wasn’t right or finished. It then sat untouched until the summer of 2011 when I showed it to a few colleagues at UW Green Bay. One described the voice as “Malcolm Gladwell-esque.” That alone may have propelled me into finishing it. So I worked on it that summer, and then put it away again, and I worked on it again the following summer. The essay was originally almost twice as long. I love the braided essay form but it can be really difficult to tie all the pieces together, so I decided to save some of my ideas, a lot which were about Catholicism, for another essay.

I’ve been working as an adjunct since 2009, and there’s a lot of insecurity in that line of work. I spent the first couple of years post-grad school scrapping together a living, so I had zero time or psychic space for writing. There’s a lot of valid criticism these days about tenure, but I’ll tell you, living with zero job security is a real creativity killer. I’ve gained a measure of stability in the last year or so, and I also had a baby in 2011, and those two forces have freed up a lot of time I used to spend worrying. They’ve also brought a routine to my life, so I’ve worked to again make reading and writing part of that routine. I’m not disciplined by nature, but there’s a freedom in structure. For a while I worried I had “forgotten” how to write, but—to borrow the cliché—it’s like riding a bike. During my time away from writing, I was mostly teaching English composition, and a fair bit was online, so I was doing a lot of writing but in a whole other capacity: Writing to instruct, writing to clarify, writing in a much more direct way, and that actually helped my “real” writing when I finally came back to it.

But to get back to your question about whether or not I have a routine—I don’t know that I really do. Even though I preach “Writing is a Process” all day long to students, I still struggle to make a regular, steady process part of my reality. I’m not that writer who wakes up a 5:30 every morning to write for two hours. I wish I were, but I’m not. But I live in perpetual hope. I’m planning to take an online class this winter “Daily work, daily inspiration: Restarting or developing your writing practice” taught by my friend Éireann Lorsung through the Loft Literary Center. She is an absolutely amazing poet who runs a beautiful micro-press called MIEL. If anyone ca