This week, we'll meet tutor Jodie Noel Vinson!
Tell us a little about yourself. Maybe something random that not many people know!
I’m obsessed with the work of Marcel Proust. It’s a life goal of mine to learn French in order to read In Search of Lost Time in the original. After Proust, my favorite book is Endurance by Alfred Lansing. The incredible story of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition in the Antarctic appeals to almost any reader, plus it’s an exemplary work of narrative non-fiction that every writer can learn from.
If you could tell your younger writing self something, what would it be?
I would encourage my younger self not to define myself too early as a certain type of writer tied to a particular genre. I’ve only recently begun to explore the boundaries of non-fiction, experimenting with non-traditional forms through the lyric essay, and it’s opened up some untapped potential and exciting opportunities—on and off the page.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Like many writers, I work full time to support my passion, so it can be difficult to describe a typical writing day. I like to write in the mornings, when my head is clear, and tend to get up early to write before work. When I do have the luxury of a full day of writing, it starts early, with coffee, but has plenty of breaks for exercise and musing—time away from the page can be almost as important to my creative process as coming back to it.
Can you share some stories about people you met while on your travels?
When I was in my twenties I traveled to literary sites around the world, a trip I referred to as my “literary pilgrimage.” I was surprised then, while I was traveling through the south of England, to meet a young man who revealed that he was also on a “book pilgrimage.” As you can imagine, we had a lot to talk about. It’s serendipitous meetings like this that I like to pay attention to as a writer—moments that, when woven into a scene, reveal life to be a story.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
While I continue to work on a travel memoir about my literary pilgrimage, I recently embarked on a new project: a book length lyric essay about insomnia. It’s a fascinating topic with a rich history and widespread relevance—the CDC estimates that 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder.
What's your teaching philosophy?
Writing is both a highly individualized, extremely solitary practice and a communal activity that requires the participation of others—an audience of readers, as well as the support of other writers. Through my writing classes I try to build that sense of community and connectivity for writers while providing them with highly personalized, constructive feedback tailored to each student’s particular project, and customized to their tastes and talents. And always, my goal as an educator is not only to teach relevant writing skills and encourage creativity, but also to reveal the myriad ways students can apply their creative writing abilities to enrich the communities in which they find themselves.
People close to you in life - family or friends - will always tell you that they will be there if they need help, but when the time comes, they’re not around, or they’re too wrapped up in themselves and their own grief to be of any help to you at all. Sometimes you have to heal alone, sometimes you heal together. Sometimes all you need is a bit of catharsis. I suppose that’s what Whittling, Man was about, and that’s what it was for me as well.
Growing up without roots, you never fully bloom. You may find the sun, rain, or wind on your face, but it only burns, wets, and batters. Nothing takes hold, burrows into a community, blossoms out of purpose. That's how I came to be here. I'm no more than a dandelion seed, standing in the middle of the road in a small town in South Dakota, ready to blow away on the next breeze. It doesn't matter. Not a bit. One town looks the same as another after a while.