Meet the Authors: Melissa Matthewson
Interview conducted by American Literary Review Editors
Melissa Matthewson is the author of the essay collection Tracing the Desire Line, out from Split Lip Press. Her essay Notes Towards Beauty appeared in our Fall 2018 issue. Melissa will be signing her essay collection, Tracing the Desire Line, at AWP at the ALR table (T1353) on Friday from 11-12pm. She’ll also be reading at our offsite reading at Francis Bogside, Friday March 6th from 6-8pm. We asked Melissa a few questions in anticipation of meeting her in person at AWP.
ALR: What was the last book you read, in any genre, that taught you something new about your craft as an essayist?
Melissa Matthewson: I’ve actually been reading quite a bit of philosophy lately and those particular books have been teaching me about how to think on the page, about how to ask questions and follow those questions into a long line of investigation, which is something I do already, but these particular books are pushing me to go farther in my thinking. In essence, how to be a better thinker. Elaine Scarry’s On Beauty and Being Just. It is dense, of course, and I’ve been reading the book for weeks on end it seems, but what I admire, especially, is the precise language, both lyrical with some abstraction, but also grounded in explanation and interesting uses of metaphor.
ALR: What kinds of research feed your creative process–music, movies, non-literary texts, archival work, etc?
MM: I absolutely love this question. Music, immediately and always. I listen to so much music and often, the lyrics, the story of the song, or rich melodies drive an interesting question for me to consider in my writing. I’m always improvising from the complexities of beautiful music in my writing. Like I mentioned, philosophical texts lately and in recent weeks, have been feeding my creative process. If I’m stuck or obsessed on a subject, which is frequently, I love to go to the library stacks at my university and find strange books on the subject. Books that have been lost. Often those texts, which have found their place on dark forgotten shelves, have ideas that move me in new directions. I wish I had more time to wander. Truly. My time is limited with everything as abundant as it is in my daily life—work, parenting, etc., that I wish I had hours to spend just pouring over strange books. Also, I consider nature partly my research, so the physical and sensual landscape feeds my creative process in a profound way. Just walking up the ditch trail from my 100-year-old house in the hills of Ashland creates a force or a new determination that brings me back to writing. The ecology of a place always seems to present some fresh insight or inquiry.
ALR: Could you talk about what you’re currently working on?
MM: I’m working on a new books of essays though I’m still searching for the through-line and theme that holds the essays together, but some of the ideas I’m exploring include inquiries about beauty, nature, the body, the feminine, sexuality, gender, and the erotic. And how all of those intersect. I want the glue that holds the essays together to be the ecology of place, that place/those places being southwestern Oregon, the eastern Sierra of California, southern California, and the high desert regions of the Great Basin. I want each essay, whether it be a short form piece (many are almost like prose poems) or a longer fragmented piece, somehow, together, collectively, reach towards an intimacy with nature and the human experience. For instance, I have a short piece I’m working on about divorce and migrating California Tortoiseshell butterflies. I have a piece I’ve just finished about swallows and infatuation (hopefully to be published in a forthcoming anthology on desire). I have a piece about beauty, the feminine, and being a woman in the wild (published in the American Literary Review!). I’m working on something on climate change and farming in fire season. A piece on vanity. I want to write about pleasure, sexuality, and nature. It’s slow. But that said, I feel the energy behind it culminating and hope, that when the academic year ends, I can devote some time to the manuscript and piece together the essays into a coherent book by the end of the year.
ALR: What’s your ‘elevator pitch’ for Tracing the Desire Line?
MM: Tracing the Desire Line, as a collage and memoir in essays, follows the journey of a mother, writer, and pirate radio DJ as she investigates desire, identity, sexuality, and freedom through the lens of opening her marriage with her husband.
Melissa Matthewson lives and writes in southwestern Oregon. She is the author of a collaborative chapbook, (un)learning, with Andrea Beltran from Artifact Press (2016). Her essays have been published in numerous places including DIAGRAM, Mid-American Review, Guernica, River Teeth, The Rumpus and Bellingham Review among other publications. Her first book of nonfiction, Tracing the Desire Line, is out now from Split Lip Press.