Dunes Review Interview Series: Sue William Silverman

Sue William Silverman’s poetry collection is Hieroglyphics in Neon (Orchises Press). Her three memoirs are Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You (Univ. of Georgia Press); Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction (W.W. Norton); and The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew (Univ. of Nebraska Press). She teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Her poem “If the Girl Walks into Lake Michigan” appears in the 2018 spring/summer issue of Dunes Review.


What do you prefer to write: prose, poetry, or both?

I mainly write creative nonfiction, but I do have one poetry collection, Hieroglyphics in Neon. I’m working on another one, “If the Girl Never Learns,” and my poem in Dunes Review is from this collection-in-progress.


What first inspired you to write?

I grew up in an incestuous family, and, because of that, I didn’t have a voice. I was unable to speak my truth. My first memoir about this experience, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, is a result of years of silence. Finally, I could no longer remain silent.


Do you need to be inspired to write, or is it a job, a routine?

I need to feel a sense of urgency about something I must understand or explore. The only way I understand anything is through writing—whether I’m writing about myself, in memoir, or about, say, this anonymous “girl” in the poem in Dunes Review. That sense of urgency nags at me, won’t let go, until I explore what it means on paper.


Do you think of yourself as a writer?

Absolutely! Even before I published my first book, I felt like a writer. If you think of yourself as a writer, you ARE a writer. If you’re writing almost every day, you’re a writer!


What's the first thing you do when starting a new piece of writing?

I submerge myself into the sensory world of the piece at hand. I must imagine or remember what a place or moment in time smelled like, sounded like, looked like, etc. From these sensory images, a narrative appears.


Do you listen to music or must you have silence while you write?

Total silence!


What's your least favorite thing about writing?

When the piece of writing is over. I always miss any given project until I begin a new one.


Do you let other people read your works in progress?

Only one person, my partner, Marc Sheehan, who also has a piece in the new Dunes Review. He’s an amazing writer and an amazing editor.


How do you know when a piece is finished?

When it’s published and I can’t tinker with it any more.


Can you tell us about a piece you are particularly proud of?

My most recent book is The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew. It’s an essay collection, and I’m pleased that I was able to morph seemingly disparate pieces into a congruent whole. My first two books are straight-through narratives, so this book presented a new challenge.


Whose writing inspires you?

Jean Rhys, Marguerite Duras, Lynda Hull


If someone were to write a book about your life, who would you want that author to be and why?

Ironically, since I’ve written four memoirs, this is a tricky question, in that I write about myself! At the same time, the “me” on the page, isn’t exactly the “me” in real life. Once you begin to write about yourself, you’re crafting yourself into art. In other words, a memoir is taking a life and turning it into art.

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