Meet a Resident: Grace Campbell
Olympia fiction writer Grace Campbell was born and raised in New York state. She recently published the chapbook of flash nonfiction Girlie Shorts, and she is the co-founder of Black River Press as well as a nonfiction reader for the journals 5×5 and Spry Literary Journal. Her work has appeared in Gravel, New Flash Fiction Review, Jellyfish, Joyland, Chagrin River Review, Two Hawks Quarterly and a variety of other places. She received a June Dodge Fellowship to Mineral School in 2018, attending a shorter residency for parent artists. Seattle fiction writer and Mineral super-volunteer Kait Heacock conducted this Q&A.
What was the impetus for starting your press? What are your goals?
Black River was started as a kind of online salon for a small collective of nonfiction writers who are all madly project-driven. It grew out of another indie iteration, Triceratops Press, and evolved into its present form. Black River includes myself, Themba Lewis (now based in Bangkok) Zahra Hankir (London), Sarah Keliher (Seattle) and Abigail Jones (UK). The brainchild of it started with Sarah K. and Themba. They invited me, someone who had contributed Triceratops pieces, to be part of its new incarnation. I feel incredibly lucky to work with people as skilled as the Black River writers and I’m constantly humbled by the quality of craft they issue. We feature other nonfiction writers as guests from time to time. Our main jams are putting out a body of nonfiction work through our online presence and through the publication of small chapbooks, all nonfiction. Black River aims toward the political, the unvarnished, stories that aren’t afraid to self implicate. We put out stuff about refugees, expat identity issues, sexual trauma, familial legacies, all that gritty stuff. I see our project broadening to include more guest posts/pieces and collecting work on differing themes.
How long have you been in the Olympia literary scene? Is it different from other cities you’ve spent time in?
I’ve been in the Oly literary scene for about 10 years. It’s definitely a different vibe than Buffalo, where I grew up, or cities where there is a larger populace, like Seattle. Larger cities have more wherewithal to regularly bring in big-name lit folks (keyword here being regularly). Having said that, there is ardent support for the lit scene here and the workshops and events I’ve hosted or attended have usually had stellar turnout. Oly has several outstanding indie-centered bookstores and the collaborations I’ve done with Andrea at Browser’s Bookshop have been really successful and fun. I would say that smaller scenes, like we have here in Olympia, strive not to mimic the activity that larger cities have, but rather to engage and celebrate our own homegrown people. We have a great collective of writers, past and present here. There’s quite a bit happening in our little cove. (Grace, left, in Mineral.)
As a Mineral School “parent” fellow, what is your advice to parents who want to write?
My advice: Don’t be hard on yourselves for not having intransigent routines around writing. When you have a window of time, jump on it. I think parents, especially, need to train ourselves to effectively use smaller increments of available time since larger stretches are rarely available. We need to strategize effective ways to edit our work and make strategizing part of our work, as tangential as that enterprise may feel. I have three small-ish children who are homeschooled. I am literally with them from sun-up till sun-down. I feel that exhaustion. They also gift me with spontaneous queries and insights that lend texture to all my written characters. They make my life silly and complicated in ways that enrich every single thing I write about. They fill me with purpose and purpose is the dowsing rod to any great writing. I tend to do almost all my writing at night, when my kids are in bed. I also haven’t slept in about thirteen years, FWIW, so there is that. Also, this: Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Nothing stalls out my writing wheels like a dry spell in my reading appetite. Think of it as an investment in your both your local business community and your greater writing community. Deepening your reading practice will also help you build up an aesthetic and technical compendium of styles and tools you can aspire toward and make use of. I have a special shelf were I keep books whose contents really struck me, on aesthetic/technical levels. I use them as resources and mark out especially brilliant passages where really cool magic is afoot.
Tell me about your nonfiction chapbook Girlie Shorts. What inspired the name? What connects the pieces in it? Where can people buy it and hear you read from it?
Girlie Shorts was a Black River project I had been messing with for a few years. I cycled through a few different shelf names but when Girlie Shorts came to me as a title option, it was so perfect because it functions as a descriptor of the body as a whole, meaning, that the chapbook is a collection of micros (‘shorts’) that are largely queer centric and all nonfiction pieces detailing various experiences I’ve had with women. So the name is also a play on or jab at binary phrasing, a reclaiming, kind of. A lot of ladies from my past stepped in and made an appearance in the chapbook. My first real love, who I could have written a whole stand alone volume on, college lasses, saucy dames and heartbreakers of every flavor. There were a lot of micros who scrambled to be part of this collection. I eventually had to suss out pieces that brought a provocative element to the book but whose technical execution was in an unpolished state. I also wanted the overall effect of the chapbook to strike a resonance with sparing use of similar chords. I didn’t want it to all be about my failed femme trysts or sticky mom-daughter dynamics. Like the name suggests, the work is about women who’ve impacted me and about myself, as a woman, ambling my way around and trying to figure out how it is I take up space. If you feel inclined, you can pick up a copy online at buyolympia.com or at Browser’s Bookshop in Olympia, Washington.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just accepted the position of Fiction Editor at 5×5 Literary Magazine, where I had been acting as the main nonfiction reader under the fantastic Sonya Dunning. I’m following in the footsteps of Kristen Blanton Landrus and Julia Hands, both incredible women, so I’m really excited to sink my teeth into that. I typically write flash pieces so it’s common for me to be working on quite a few things at once. I find I work best when I jump around between several works concurrently. In the last seven months I’ve committed to putting out a longer volume of work, so I’ve just completed the first draft of a nineties queer love novel that takes place in Buffalo, my home nest. Apart from that, I’m focused on getting another, longer volume of micros into the world. I’ve got a heft of stylistic and technical goals I’m always jabbing at, so I keep busy. It’s really starting to cut into my lazy time, actually.
(Grace is on the far right, below, along with her Class of September 2018 classmates and staff!)