Spotlight: Marya Hornbacher

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Hobart Festival of Women Writers welcomes Marya Hornbacher as a Participating Writer for Festival 2019.

And Marya Hornbacher comes with a wealth of literary experience and acclaim. Her first book, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize when published in 1998. The book has changed countless lives, is now taught in universities across the country, and has been translated into sixteen languages. Marya Hornbacher has gone on to write several other nonfiction books: The memoir Madness: A Bipolar Life ventures into the years post-Wasted when she was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. Sane: Mental Illness, Addiction, and the Twelve Steps is a handbook dedicated to those who face both mental-health issues and addiction issues. Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power considers what spirituality looks like for the person in recovery who does not believe in God. Hornbacher’s novel The Center of Winter, which was on the New York Times Bestseller list, looks at how a man’s suicide affects his family. Find the latest on her projects here: Current Projects — Marya Hornbacher.

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Marya Hornbacher was awarded the ASCAP Award for music journalism for her 2005 profile on jazz musician Oscar Peterson, Return of A Virtuoso.  She earned the Annie Dillard Award in Creative Nonfiction and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in both poetry and nonfiction. Marya Hornbacher has the distinction of being a two-time Fellow at Yale University. She resides in Minnesota.

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Marya Hornbacher
Stephanie Nikolopoulos
Stephanie Nikolopoulos

SN: Your first book, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, was published when you were just twenty-three years old. A lot of writers struggle for years to find their voice, commit to their discipline, and build a platform that helps them publish their book. What was the story of your publishing journey for that first book, and what advice do you have for first-time authors of any age?

MH: Voice, to the extent that it is a thing in itself, is not a static or stable thing. A writer’s voice changes with time, and all the time. With every piece, every character, every subject, perhaps with every line, a writer’s voice has to change. I would worry that writers whose voices do not change over time would get tired of hearing themselves talk. This is not to say that that voice is fully and wholly new each time a writer writes; but each time a writer changes, so too does her voice. And as for finding my voice at 23, I can assure you I have lost and found and lost it again many times since then, and hope that I will continue in this vein.

The discipline of writing is not complicated. It is difficult, but it is not complicated. It requires us to show up for it and be curious about what it will bring. The sustained practice of writing, like any sustained practice (meditation, piano, running, gardening) is sometimes boring. It requires patience and an ability to tolerate uncertainty. All this being the case, I think that it would be terribly hard to develop a writing discipline if one did not know something about silence and solitude, and I honestly do not know how young writers keep themselves focused. There is nothing more tempting for a writer than distraction, and nothing worse for the work.

As for the publishing journey to my first book, that was not a journey so much as a fluke. I wrote an article, it won an award, the judge sent my work to an agent, the agent contacted an editor, and so forth. I think many authors my age and older will remember that at the time we didn’t think a lot about our “publishing platforms,” or our “media presences” because we did not have this sorcery we call the “internet.” Even today, despite my best efforts, I cannot persuade myself to care enough about platforms or presences to do anything about them; it’s not that they aren’t important, but that there are only so many things to which one can devote energy, and that is not one of my things.

And perhaps that leads to my advice to first-time authors of any age: Write whether you are published or not, whether your book is reviewed or not, whether your work sells or not. Decide whether or not you will write, and then follow through. Make a pact with yourself and your reader, and then keep that pact.

SN: Many of your books and speaking engagements focus on mental health. While diary writing can indeed be therapeutic, manuscript writing, especially about personal and complex topics, is difficult, challenging work. How do you practice self-care when you write?

MH: Keeping a diary or journal can be helpful, I think, but writing a book is a whole ‘nother thing. For self-care, I don’t do anything elaborate; I just take good care of my physical person (sleep, eat, go outside, move about) and avoid things that deplete me (internet, phone, tv, etc). 

SN: You’re currently working on a book about solitude in women’s lives. Can you tell us a little more about this?

MH: There is a great deal of literature by women and about women that celebrates and explores the fundamental necessity and power of relationship in women’s lives. Women are often defined, at least in literature, by their relationships–they are seekingrelationships, or healing from broken relationships, or enduring difficult relationships; they are mothers, or lovers, or daughters, or friends. I began to be very interested by women who seemed to define themselves and their lives differently–in and of themselves, rather than in relationship to someone else. So in this book, I am exploring the role of solitude in our thoughtlives, our spiritual lives, and our creative lives. 

Those taking Stephanie Nikolopoulos’s Wild Women on the Road workshop will be especially interested in Marya Hornbacher’s essay “Drifters (Interstate 35)” in Nowhere: Drifters (Interstate 35) | Nowhere Magazine

For Hobart Festival of Women Writers 2019, Marya will be teaching the workshop Inventing the “I”: Crafting a Powerful First Person Voice, which will explore the risks and rewards of writing with the personal “I” across genres. Find out more here: WORKSHOPS | Hobart Festival of Women Writers

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More on Marya Hornbacher’s work at Marya Hornbacher.com

More on Stephanie Nikolopoulos, go to Stephanie Nikolopoulos.com

More about all of our Participating Writers, go to Spotlights

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