Interview: Christina Wheeler

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Christina Wheeler moved to Wyoming after living in Seaville, NJ for over 20 years. Her work has appeared in Art New EnglandGrey Sparrow Journal and Festival Writer, among other places. As a member of the planning committee for the Shepard Symposium on Social Justice, she helps to make the UW-led conference accessible to all. Although she misses living by the beach, she admits that the sunset over the mountains is spectacular to see.

What made you decide to pursue an MFA in creative writing? Why did you choose the program at UW?
In high school, a teach encouraged me to continue working towards de-stigmatizing mental disabilities after I submitted a personal essay on the topic. Since then, I’ve wanted to write a memoir that further explores the subject. I chose to pursue and MFA in creative writing because it would provide me with the time, feedback, and skills I need to complete this writing project. UW’s program attracted me because it offered flexibility in the degree requirements to allow me to pursue interests related to my writing project, such as disability theory.

Do you think living in Wyoming has changed your writing process, or your perspective on writing?
My writing process has changed since I’ve moved to Wyoming in that I’ve become more aware of what works for me. For example, I’m a morning person through and through, but writing first thing in the morning is the most unproductive move I can try to make. I don’t make any progress whatsoever.

What have you been working on lately? What is your thesis about?
Lately, I’ve been working on incorporating a disability studies theoretical framework into my personal narrative. My thesis explores the fragility and subjectivity of memory and questions whether writing about my experiences with mental disabilities actually adds to the stigma rather than reducing it. Am I contributing to ableist notions of the mind by looking at the deterioration of my own?

What do you think the major influences on your work have been? Any particular books, movies, albums, or experiences that have shaped you as a writer?
The major influences on my work are fairly eclectic. They range from Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series to William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, from staying at a mental hospital three times to taking a trip to Wales.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Pulitzer-prize winning poet Stephen Dunn once told me, “you have to earn your ending.” Although he was talking about poetry, this bit of advice is true for the work I’m doing now, too. I like this suggestion because of its concision. It’s like a catchphrase or a mantra–almost like a line of poetry in and of itself–that I repeat to myself when I don’t know where to go in a piece. It reminds me to attract the attention of my readers, hold their interest, and exit a piece of writing gracefully, not in a tumble or words or at a sudden halt, but through a conclusion that I’ve earned.

Come hear Christina’s work at the third event in the 2019-2020 MFA Reading Series on Thursday, November 13 at the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center on the University of Wyoming Campus.

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