Win Bassett on the Blog Train
A literary blog train started by @bethkepler which has stopped by (in succession) @melissaduclos, @modmyth, @kayaoakes @otherspoon and @marykvalle has lumbered up to newly minted Buddha-killer Win Bassett’s station. What is Win doing? Answers right here!
What am I working on?
I use to serve as a prosecutor in North Carolina, and I loved when my days were full with cases of all different sorts. The mornings when I was assigned to traffic court seemed to last for eons, but the times when I might have tried cases involving animal abuse, an assault, a DWI, and a drug possession—all in one day—were a lot of fun.
This is also how I like to work on my writing. I like to keep a diverse docket of nonfiction, fiction, poetry, social media postings, and letters. My recent nonfiction pieces have been short essays for Guernica and the Los Angeles Review of Books, and I have one on Peter Matthiessen coming soon for Electric Literature. I finished my first year at Yale in a graduate program for religion and literature a few weeks ago and wrote four longer nonfiction essays for my coursework, including papers on a 1000-line poem of medieval theologian Peter Abelard, Trinitarian and Jesus’ Name serpent handling, and similarities between a James Baldwin speech and the book of James.
On the fiction side, I have two short stories in the new PANK Issue 10, and I’m starting to think more seriously about a short novel that’s been bouncing around in my head. I tend to work on poems when an image, something someone says, or a striking occurrence sticks with me. This happens frequently but without any consistency. I might start several poems within a few hours or not write a line for weeks. I have two poems coming out in the next issue of Image, hundreds that no one wants to read, and a few more I’ve been sending out recently. I’m working as a hospital chaplain in Charlottesville, Va., this summer, and I hope the experience finds it ways into poems during the next three months (like Spencer Reece’s “ICU” in his new collection).
How does my work/writing differ from others in its genre?
One way in which my writing differs among the genres above is that it stems from an untrained hand. I earned a degree in electrical engineering and went to law school. Other than my public high school English classes, I’ve never taken a literature course until this past year, and I still haven’t taken a creative writing class. I hope to take my first one in the fall with Chris Wiman. Until then, my writing differs because I have no clue what I’m doing.
Some say this is for the best. I say I need structural and stylistic help, especially when it comes to verse.
Why do I write what I do?
I write nonfiction as an excuse to learn about subjects that interest me, like the serpent handlers I wrote about in Guernica. I write fiction to hide stories that may be true. I write poetry to become more emotionally and spiritually mature. Emotions and a closeness to God often don’t become real for me unless I write them or read them.
How does my writing process work?
I usually sit down at (1) my desk in New Haven, which is an Army officer’s desk that I bought off of Craigslist from a Duke professor during my last year as an undergraduate; (2) the Common Room of the Hall of Graduate Studies at Yale; (3) my girlfriend’s desk in South Philadelphia; or (4) Ultimo, a coffee shop in the New Bold neighborhood of South Philly, to do my work.
I write everything in Microsoft Word, including my handwritten letters. I type drafts of them before I handwrite copies of them onto some fancy stationary. I tend to write poems and short fiction in one sitting and will revise them over the course of a few weeks. Short nonfiction pieces (less than 3,000 words) take me anywhere from a few hours to around a week to write.
To leave this place better than when I found it, I’ll tag three of my writing and editing friends who are much more talented than I am. I’m working as a chaplain at the University of Virginia Medical Center for the summer and am honored to spend some time with these wonderful women in Charlottesville, Virginia, the city that they all call home:
I was a friend of S. Hope Mills’s younger sister in high school and knew her at the time only as Karri’s older sister in the marching band. Several academic degrees later for both of us, we connected via social media when we learned that we each had interests in writing. Hope is a content director for Journey Group and has written for The Millions, the Ploughshares blog, and elsewhere. Her most recent short story, “What Lights Up the Night” in Guernica is one of my favorites.
Amy Woolard and I met in person for the first time last week over drinks after becoming fast Twitter friends over a year ago. Her life as a senior policy attorney on children’s issues in Virginia and work as a poet (and most recently an essayist for Slate) led me to interview her for The Atlantic several months ago about her many vocations. If Twitter had a Suggested Users List for attorneys who want to write poetry, Amy’s feed would be at the top. Don’t miss her reading “Things Go South” in the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of TriQuarterly.
Allison Wright is a native Texan and a recent Charlottesville transplant, and she won’t let you forget her roots while she gracefully lets you know that she already knows more about Virginia culture than you. She is Associate Editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review (a southern literary institution), Editor at Tiny Hardcore Press, and has written for The Rumpus and elsewhere. Allison also has a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, where she did work on cheerleading culture, and it’s not uncommon to find her on panels around Charlottesville discussing women’s issues. One of Allison’s latest panels describes her best: “Bad A** Women In Media.”
Win Bassett has written for the Paris Review, The Atlantic, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Guernica. He’s a former assistant district attorney and serves on the PEN Prison Writing Program Fiction Committee. Follow him on Twitter @winbassett.