Interview: Evan O’Neal

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Evan O’Neal is a musician and writer from St. Louis, MO. He has been living and writing in Los Angeles with his long time companion, Wiley, a husky-shepherd mix, where he attended CSULA. He writes mainly fiction but has been experimenting with genres like play-writing and poetry. 

What made you decide to pursue an MFA in creative writing? Why did you choose the program at UW?
I was actually in an MA program in English before I decided to pursue the dark arts. I was taking classes in critical theory and traditions and I had a few really extraordinary professors. I also took a fiction workshop, which I thought would help me condition the other side of my brain. The professor in the fiction workshop was a nightmare, and I thought about withdrawing from the course, but I went to the third or fourth class and she was no longer teaching. The new instructor, Elisabeth Houston, was a great facilitator and the workshop was really enjoyable. I took another workshop after that in poetry, and decided I’d rather be a writer than spend the rest of my life analyzing other people’s works.

I learned about Brad Watson from an interview on YouTube where he was in conversation with Larry Brown and Barry Hannah–pretty heavy hitters! So I decided to read some of his work. It blew me away, so I dug a little and found out that he worked at UW.

Over Thanksgiving, I drove to Denver to visit my sister and decided to stop in Laramie and see if I could track down Brad–pick his brain a little bit. It ended up working out. I decided I wanted to work with him, so I applied to the MFA program. It was actually the only MFA program I applied to.

Do you think living in Wyoming has changed your writing process, or your perspective on writing?
I think it has changed a lot because it is solely what I’m here to do. I try to think about it as a privilege that I get to work with some of the best writers in the game out here. It’s easy to take that for granted. I’ve learned a lot about myself since I’ve been here and the most important change in perspective is making sure I enjoy the process.

What have you been working on lately? What is your thesis about?
My thesis will be a novel about a couple who get involved with a strange ‘high demand’ group. They live in Los Angeles but the grind and the high rent and the traffic is wearing on them. They decide to move off the grid and participate in a marijuana harvest up in Mendocino. Then things get a little weird.

I’ve also been writing some creative non-fiction and helping put together The Modern West podcast for WPR, our local NPR station.

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?
Music has always been important to me. I come from a family of musicians and became one myself. My dad taught me guitar at a young age and I had access to a pretty impressive record collection. I was playing and touring in bands for about ten years before I went back to school, and music definitely informs and inspires my writing. All kinds of music, Hank Williams to Frank Ocean–I think Frank Ocean is my favorite contemporary artist at the moment. He’s reinventing pop music and is choosing interesting people to collaborate with. I’m really impressed with that dude.

I love film. Some favorite directors are Spike Lee, Orson Welles, Wim Winders, both Coppolas–Sophia and Francis.

I still like to read, thank god. I just read a really great novel called Goodbye, Goodness by Sam Brumbaugh. I also discovered Amy Hoempel recently, and she’s amazing. I love a lot of southern writers and poets. They have a lyrical quality that has always agreed with me. I seem to be drawn to poetry more than novels these days. C.D. Wright, Dorothy Parker, Frank Stanford. A newer poet from New Orleans named Dylan Krieger is doing some really interesting stuff. Also, Joseph Grantham.

What advice would you give to people who are starting an MFA program?
DIG IN! Enjoy the process.

Come hear Evan’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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