Pam Houston: Orlando Creative Nonfiction Judge
“I was just working hard to unearth the things that wanted expression inside me, and I had no idea anyone would care about my river running/sheep hunting/cowboy chasing stories, but they did.”—Pam Houston
AROHO is pleased to announce Pam Houston as the finalist Creative Nonfiction judge for the Spring 2015 Orlando Prizes. We asked Pam the following questions about her own writing and her advice for women writers:
When you started writing, did you have any idea that women would find your work so transformative or that it would be so well received? Has success changed the way you write at all?
I had no idea that anyone—men, women, or otherwise—would find my work transformative. I don’t think any of us do. I was just working hard to unearth the things that wanted expression inside me, and I had no idea anyone would care about my river running/sheep hunting/cowboy chasing stories, but they did. Success has not changed the way I write at all. I still have all the same fears I always have, the paralyzing fear of writing badly. What has changed, if anything, is that I have more faith in my revision tools.
Do you have any activities that jump-start your creativity when the well is running dry?
Travel has always been the big jump start for me. And travel can mean anything from six weeks in Mongolia to a walk around my pasture where I am looking really hard at everything. Also, when I feel really stuck and desperate I tend to turn to my favorite poetry. Nothing makes me want to write more than reading good poetry, so I turn to the work of Carl Phillips, Dana Levin, Larry Levis, Louise Gluck, Jon Davis.
What is one resource you wish more women writers had or knew about?
Well, this is going to sound a little like a commercial, but I have started my own non profit, Writing By Writers, which offers several multi-day writing workshops, so far, in Northern California, Boulder and Jackson Hole. They are not exclusive to women, but women make up a huge percentage of our students (maybe 90% or so) and we have terrific teachers at them, such as Dorothy Allison, Lidia Yuknavitch, Terry Tempest Williams, BK Loren, Antonya Nelson, Dana Levin, and a lot of really cool male teachers too. (Find us at www.WritingXWriters.org)
Is there anything you hope to discover in the Orlando nonfiction submissions?
The first thing I am looking for is a compelling voice. The story matters, especially in nonfiction, but I want the language to be more than just a conveyance for meaning. I want the writer to be aware that they are using language. In other words, beauty matters to me, and I love being surprised.
Pam Houston’s most recent book is Contents May Have Shifted, published by W.W. Norton in 2012. She is also the author of two collections of linked short stories, Cowboys Are My Weakness and Waltzing the Cat, the novel Sight Hound, and a collection of essays, A Little More About Me, all published by W.W. Norton. Her stories have been selected for volumes of Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Awards, The 2013 Pushcart Prize, and Best American Short Stories of the Century. She is the winner of the Western States Book Award, the WILLA award for contemporary fiction, The Evil Companions Literary Award and multiple teaching awards. She is Professor of English at UC Davis, directs the literary nonprofit Writing By Writers and teaches in The Pacific University low residency MFA program and at writer’s conferences around the country and the world. She lives on a ranch at 9,000 feet in Colorado near the headwaters of the Rio Grande.