by Danielle Childs
The Hartford Courant had this to say in a review of The Mercy Papers: “Some people face great sorrow with saintly acceptance. Robin Romm is too human for that, and frank about admitting it.”
Robin Romm’s memoir The Mercy Papers, a New York Times best book of the year, takes an honest look at the grieving process that follows the death of a loved one. Her collection of stories, titled The Mother Garden, is likewise acclaimed and tackles the issue of death in an almost aggressive fashion. And all this originality from a woman living in our very own city of Portland. How lucky are we?
Our university will host Robin Romm on Tuesday, November 4th, at 7:30 pm in the bookstore. For an introductory look at Romm as an author, check out her responses to a few burning questions:
-When did you decide you were a writer, and what does that role mean to you?
I don’t know that I ever decided I was a writer. Writing was just how I expressed myself, even in childhood. I have diaries from when I was nine, as well as short stories from then through college, and beyond. Even when I was an investigator working full time, I wrote case reports that utilized my skills–sensory detail, narrative arc, dialogue.
That second part of your question, well, it could be a twenty page essay and then some. It’s changed for me over the years, but I think that creativity is an amazing human gift. I’m grateful that I get to use it, and with real frequency. When you’re creating, you are active and engaged, a doer rather than a passive consumer. It’s transformative.
-What literature has been formative for you? What are you reading currently?
I just finished Alina Bronsky’s weird and wonderful novel, “The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine.” She is a Berlin-based writer. And I’m looking forward to Scottish writer Ali Smith’s new novel, “How to Be Both,” too. I really loved her novels “Hotel World” and “The Accidental.” Alison Lurie was a recent discovery. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for her excellent book, “Foreign Affairs,” that is now scandalously under read. She’s a genius. I love a book that defies expectation or pushes hard against mores or norms.
-Can you give us a little insight into your writing process? Where does your inspiration come from?
I sometimes will hear a line of a story or essay in my head, usually when I am out doing something other than writing, like walking the dog. If I were a more organized person, I’d always have a pen and paper to write these things down. Alas, organization isn’t my strong suit, so I simply have to require myself to sit down and write if I want to get things done. I don’t really need to do this at a certain time of day, or in a certain room, but I need to do it. I find that if I make myself write every day, I get better at it, sharper. If I don’t, when I sit down to do it, it’s like trying to push a wall of water. Being a writer means having a little talent with a lot of discipline.
-You will be addressing many aspiring writers at your visit to UP. Any advice to them?
I suppose that my two pieces of advice are: pay attention and do the work. You can’t write well unless you really pay attention to the world around you. All writers are, in part, transcribing in careful detail what the world is actually like. You need to be able to do this using all of your senses and all of your intelligence. It means you need to put down your phone and go for a walk, eavesdrop at a restaurant. That kind of true alertness will train you to see what you need to see to be a writer, but it will never happen if you don’t make the time to do it.
-What is different about your story collection, The Mother Garden, in comparison with the other works you’ve had published? How do you feel about the short story medium?
Well, I hope that people will read the books and decide for themselves how they are different. In “The Mercy Papers,” I stared directly at my mother’s death and recorded what I saw–with all the detail and humor that I could. In “The Mother Garden,” I relied more heavily on making metaphors literal. I’ll let you guys figure out what I mean by that.
I love short stories; they allow me to pursue the depth and texture of small moments. I like to capture small moments in their true intensity.