Hobart Festival of Women Writers welcomes
Ellen Meeropol as a Participating Writers for Festival 2019
Ellen Meeropol has worked as a daycare teacher and women’s reproductive health counselor before becoming a nurse practitioner. It was in her twenty-four years working at a children’s hospital that she began authoring and co-authoring articles and book chapters focused on pediatric issues and latex allergy. The nursing honor society Sigma Theta Tau honored her for excellence in nursing journalism, and she received the Ruth A. Smith Writing Award for excellence in writing in the profession of nursing. She went on to receive the Chair’s Excellence Award from the Spina Bifida Association of America for her advocacy around latex allergy and spina bifida. In 2000, Meeropol decided to pursue a life of letters in earnest and earned her MFA from the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine. She didn’t leave behind her advocacy though: her novel Kinship of Clover involves a character who has spina bifida.
Ellen Meeropol is the author of House Arrest, On Hurricane Island, and her most recent novel, Kinship of Clover. Her short stories, essays, and poetry have also been published in journals, magazines, and online. She is a founding member and currently coordinates the social justice writing project of the Straw Dog Writers Guild. She also gives back, volunteering at WriteAngles. Meeropol frequently presents at book festivals and literary conferences, such as: the AWP annual conference, The Muse and the Marketplace, Wordstock, Virginia, Salem, and Maine Festivals of the Book, and the San Miguel International Writing Conference. This will be her first year presenting a writing workshop at the Hobart Festival of Women Writers.
Ellen Meeropol recently spoke with Stephanie Nikolopoulos about her life and work
SN: Although you had published work nationally at twelve years old, you didn’t seriously pursue writing fiction until your fifties. In our youth-obsessed culture, even the publishing industry seems to reward youthfulness with its contests and lists like “30 authors under 30 years old.” What words of encouragement would you give to literary late-bloomers?
EM: The best encouragement I can give to other literary late bloomers is that age brings a depth and width of life experience and wisdom to our work, as well as understanding about how complex our world can be. This ability to reflect on what we’ve seen and thought, to dig deeply into big questions, is a potentially amazing resource usually not available to young writers. There are a lot of us late bloomers, and in addition to writing and publishing good work, we often are committed literary citizens, willing and eager to help each other do our best work, and help that work find its readers.
SN: Your novel Kinship of Clover, about a botanist who gets wrapped up in the world of climate-justice activists with ever-increasing plans, poses the following question: “how do you stay true to the people you care about while trying to change the world?” As this is an important question that could apply to many areas of activism, could you tell us how you balanced storytelling with perhaps having a larger agenda in raising questions for the reader to consider?
EM: The funny thing is that I never start a novel with theme in mind. Kinship of Clover started with my curiosity about one of the main characters. Jeremy was nine years old at the end of my first novel, House Arrest and I kept imagining him asking me, “Don’t you want to know how I turned out?” I did want to know, so I started writing the novel to find out. The nine-year-old who loved drawing plants and hanging out in his family’s greenhouse, led me to the college student obsessed with the extinction of plant species, and to the concept and practice of permaculture. The character gave me an opportunity to explore activism in the context of climate change. That said, there are some important ways to balancing the story and one’s own political and social beliefs. Some of those ways involve choices of language, of narrators, and being hyper-vigilant about not letting our characters be mouthpieces.
SN: Your earlier political thriller On Hurricane Island likewise poses a relevant question: “How far should government go in the name of protecting our national security?” In the story, a math professor on her way to an academic conference is seized by federal agents and taken to a secret detention center on suspicion of terrorist involvement, where one of the FBI agents is intent on breaking her. We are grappling with this issue today just as we did in the past: you are married to Robert Meeropol, the younger son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and are a founding board member of The Rosenberg Fund for Children, in honor of his parents’ refusal to “name names.” How does fiction help us see truth?
EM: I don’t know quite how it works, how fiction helps us – as writers and as readers – to see truth. But it does. It can. I suspect it’s partly because politics are always personal as well as global. If we approach a “political” story through our characters, letting ourselves inhabit other bodies, feel through other skin, see through other eyes, we can begin to see beyond sound bites and easy explanations. It’s always personal and it’s always complicated. The other thing about fiction is that I believe it’s better at asking questions than answering them. As a novelist, I invite readers to come with my characters on a journey that asks us all to suspend our usual opinions and beliefs and become part of the exploration of the novel and its meanings. My favorite novels do this, novels like Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fireand The Chosen Place; The Timeless People by Paule Marshall. They invite the reader to ponder the central mysteries, challenges, and contradictions of the story along with the characters. And hopefully we all learn something, all benefit, from the experience.
At Festival 2019, Ellen Meeropol will present the workshop:
In It for the Long Haul: Writing the Novel. There’s no GPS for writing a novel; it can take years and it’s easy to lose your way. This workshop will focus on the necessary components of writing a novel – equal parts of inspiration, perspiration, and desperation – and examine strategies to keep the story moving. Participants will discuss ways to use elements of craft to troubleshoot problem areas in their manuscripts, as well as methods to maximize the enjoyment of the adventure. Participants are invited to bring a question to the workshop about a current challenge in their own work-in-progress.
Don’t miss the opportunity to get expert attention for your work. Find out more about the Hobart Festival of Women Writers and register for Ellen Meeropol’s workshop here: https://www.hobartfestivalofwomenwriters.com/.
For more on Stephanie Nikolopoulos, go to Stephanie Nikolopoulos.com
for more about all of our Participating Writers, go to Spotlights