Interview: Caroline Miller

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Caroline Miller is an essayist and poet who writes about art, landscapes, and femininity. Her non-writing interests include tap dancing, hiking, and drinking far too much coffee. Her work has appeared in Quail Bell Magazine.

What made you decide to pursue an MFA in creative writing? Why did you choose the program at UW?
I decided to apply for MFA programs in a burst of existential panic, which is how I make pretty much all major decisions. One of my undergraduate professors had recommended a handful of schools, including the University of Wyoming. I had a lot of logical reasons for being interested in the program, like the fact that I’d be able to take electives in the gender and women’s studies department.

A less logical reason that I was drawn to Wyoming is that in high school, I was a big fan of the YA author John Green, who once said he uses “Cheyenne, Wyoming,” as shorthand for the mental space he inhabits when working on a novel, because it feels distant and removed from his real life. I guess I took that literally and began to think of Wyoming as an appealing creative space.

Do you think living in Wyoming has changed your writing process, or your perspective on writing?
One of the great things about moving halfway across the country to a place you never would have gone otherwise is that it’s hard to forget why you’re here. There are a lot of great things about living in Laramie, but the fact that I’m here to write is always at the front of my mind, and helps me stay focused.

It’s also impossible for me not to be talking about space and landscape while I’m here. I’m fascinated by how our surroundings influence the way we think, and Wyoming is so different from any other place I’ve been. I didn’t expect to be writing so much about place, but I’ve found it coming up again and again in my work.

What have you been working on lately? What’s your thesis about?
My thesis is a hybrid collection of poems and lyric essays dealing with questions of place, perception, and identity. Right now, I’m trying to figure out how to bring those things together into a coherent structure, and how to incorporate research and theory to take it beyond my personal experience to something more global. That’s been going okay, I guess.

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?
I’ll get the clichés out of the way first, but Joan Didion, Annie Dillard, and Anne Carson are my giants. I’m also obsessed with Ada Limon, Franny Choi, Maggie Nelson, and the music of Florence and the Machine. Visual art is a big inspiration as well–a lot of impressionism, but also the work of Thornton Dial.

What advice would you give to people who are starting an MFA?
The process is more important than the product. I spent undergrad worrying about producing something brilliant right away and waiting until I felt inspired to write. Since starting this program, I’ve focused on developing a process I can count on even when I’m not feeling particularly creative. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s far more consistent than just waiting around for inspiration to strike.

Unfortunately, I’ve settled on a revision approach that often involves cutting up my essays and scattering the paragraphs all over my office floor. So my biggest piece of advice is to avoid having that be your process, if you can help it. It’s bad for the trees and requires a very patient office-mate.

Come hear Caroline’s work at the third event in the 2019-2020 MFA Reading Series on Thursday, November 14 at the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center on the University of Wyoming Campus.

 

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