Amy Sage Webb, professor of English and co-director of the creative writing program, read from her first book, “Save Your Own Life,” a collection of original short stories Feb. 18. for the Visiting Writers Series. The series brings writers to campus so students can see possibilities for their own work and interact with the writers, Webb said.
The Bulletin sat down with Webb after her reading, where roughly 50 students, faculty, alumni and community members crowded the Preston Family Room in the Memorial Union. This is what she had to say:
What is the first thing you can remember that sparked your interest in fiction writing?
I read all the time when I was a kid and used to write stories in my mind, like all kids do. Other kids in the neighborhood, we would write epic tales of what we were doing.
How long did you work on “Save Your Own Life” before you were able to get it published?
I had published almost everything in that book over a period of 10 years and then just put them together in that book. Putting them together was a process of choosing what went together and what didn’t go, taking things out that didn’t match and deciding which of my publications would work well as a book.
Where do the ideas for your plots and characters in your stories come from?
I got most of the stories from things that I teach. There’s a story in there that I created to try to test a narration concept. I knew that I wanted to talk to students about moving the narration without elapsing the time of the story, and so I gave myself the task of doing that, and it turned into an assignment that we do in Fiction Writing called the vignette. So, a lot of those stories came out of questions I had about, “How am I going to teach this to a student?” And so I would go and try it and explore it and try to answer that question.
What does the writing process look like for you? How do you go about creating stories?
I create a lot of pieces as they come to me, and they’re in a lot of different files, and then I start putting them into a structure. Sometimes, if I’ve given myself a task like the vignette, it will come about more linear, more straight through, but most often, it doesn’t. I get pieces of it as I’m working on other things, and I store them up and come back and configure them and re-work them.
What inspires you to keep writing?
Reading and teaching student writers. More than anything, teaching students is an inspiration to write because you are constantly exposed to the problems of story and you come home asking yourself, “How would I fix that? How would I do that?” So, I think that’s cool and then, of course, being inspired by other people’s writing. Also, there’s just a need to write. We all have that part of our brain that is “narratizing” to us…I think it has a real power over our ways – the way we tell a story.
What is the most beneficial thing about being a creative writing teacher?
I get to be around creative, fun people all the time, and I get to help people with things that they value, that they’re personally invested in, and we get to talk about very important, meaningful human issues together.
What is the most beneficial thing about being, yourself, a writer?
You bring something into the world where there was not something before. There’s a satisfaction to that – to forming something. There’s a satisfaction to putting ideas and images together and being able to express them to someone else. It’s intellectually and aesthetically very satisfying to do that.
Do you think fiction writers should be considered artists?
Oh, sure. Writers are definitely artists. They have to understand the history of their craft and all the components of it. They have to apprentice to it fully in the same way that visual artists and other artists have to understand their media… all the arts create something that brings society together and shows society some component of itself. Without the arts, we would all be a little bit crazy.
How did you feel seeing fellow faculty members and students coming to your reading at Emporia State?
It was great. I admire these people – the students and the faculty. I appreciate their work and enjoy working with them and spending time with them, so it was wonderful to see them there as well and to be able to give something, to read something to them. I mean, my day is spent on student writing.
The creative writing program at ESU offers only a minor right now. Would you like to see it developed into a possible major for future students?
There are a lot of students who would like to major in it… it’s an interesting direction. I think you could tie creative writing to other areas of the arts and humanities – philosophy, psychology – to make it a robust and interesting major, to conjoin more with journalism and other forms of writing… however, you never want to get so big that you can’t do what you’re doing as well as you possibly can, and for the number of faculty we have and the number of things that we offer, we’re doing about as much as we can. If we had a bit more staffing, I think there are many more extraordinary things that we could do, but you don’t want to grow beyond what you can do well.