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Writer Wednesday with Lori A. May: author, poet, and literary citizen

Writer and speaker Lori A. MayDuring my final residency in the Wilkes University Creative Writing program in 2010, one of the most inspirational craft classes was taught by a new face on the faculty, writer Lori A. May.

The class was scintillating, motivational--everything the doctor ordered. As a result of her craft class, Lori became my inspiration for reaching out to other writers because she underscored the value of (and the need for) authors to be good "literary citizens." In other words, writers should find ways to devote a portion of their time to lifting up the work and writing of friends and colleagues.

Literary citizenship makes the world go round. If you find that to be a bit hokey or hyperbolic, consider the fact that it makes the alienation writers feel while banging out a book less of a lonely slog. Yes, literary citizenship helps others while lifting the spirits and the influence of the literary citizen, too.

Her call to literary citizenship is one reason I do this Writer Wednesday feature on this blog.

During that craft class, Lori also outlined a model for goal-setting and monitoring toward forward progress and ultimately success as a writer. It's a winning plan she herself has obviously user-tested and proven.

She writes across a number of disciplines, edits, teaches, and travels as a frequent guest speaker.

You can find her work in print and online with The Writer, Writer's Digest, Passages North, Brevity, and Phoebe. She's a regular reviewer for publications including Los Angeles Review, Rattle, New Orleans Review, and The Colorado Review.

Lori's 2011 handbook for would-be low-residency studentsShe writes books, too, including The Low-Residency MFA Handbook (published by Continuum in 2011), which offers prospective graduate students an in-depth preview of low-residency creative writing programs.

All the interviews she conducted with program directors, faculty, alumni, and current students at low-residency programs led to an unexpected outcome--she ended up enrolling in the Wilkes MA-MFA program. 

My most profound regret is that Lori and I weren't in the Wilkes program at the same time. As it turns out, I have been the recipient of her thought leadership in the realm of literary citizenship despite our not being classmates.

She walks the talk, interviewing me for the Wilkes University newsletter last fall and apparently singling out this website and my blog as effective author websites and blogs during the most recent Wilkes residency.

(Thank you, Lori! I'm verklempt!)

Anyhoo, it's such a pleasure to welcome Lori A. May to "Scrivengale" for Writer Wednesday!

Since I’m more of a one-trick pony, I admire (so much) that you are accomplished across a range of disciplines—poetry, non-fiction, fiction, journalism. Do you have a favorite genre(s)? If so, why?
It’s definitely a balancing act. I really do enjoy all of these avenues, though, which is why I keep up the insanity of it. While I don’t necessarily have favorites, I do work in phases. Usually when I wrap up one large nonfiction project, I’m ready for fiction or poetry. It’s nice to always have something on the go, though!

Stains is a collection of early poems by Lori A. MayThough you are a seasoned freelancer, you very much strike me as a new-school author—comfortable and fluent in emerging technologies, accepting of the grind that the profession now demands of you. In some ways, you have even broken the mold—to my mind. How are you able to accomplish and balance everything that you do?
I certainly don’t consider myself a trendsetter. But I do watch and learn from others, whether that’s how to develop social media skills or record a live poetry reading. I enjoy seeing how others work across multiple platforms with marketing, of course, and with publishing in unique ways. I don’t always adopt what I see for my own writing life, but when something clicks I find a way to make it work. Since I write and speak full-time, I do have to treat my writing life with a certain business sensibility; so I find ways to be creative with the ‘work’ part, so I maintain that joy of being a writer and don’t get bogged down with weighty to-do lists. It’s in keeping writing at the forefront, having fun, and only taking on what is authentic for me that helps keep things in balance.
What made you decide to enroll in Wilkes University’s Low Residency MFA-MA?
I had met a number of faculty at conferences—like AWP—and also myself been a guest faculty member at Wilkes, so I really had an advantage in getting to know the people behind the program in a personal way. Conversations about what I planned on working on came up organically and then I realized Wilkes was an obvious fit, as I had already established a rapport and knew it would be a great place to try something new, something different for me. There are many great programs out there and I always say it is unique to every single person what program is best for him or her. For me, with what I had in mind for an experimental thesis, Wilkes was it. I knew it was my home.
Lori may be the only current student in the Wilkes Creative Writing program who is also a presenter at residencies.What’s the worst part of being a writer?

This one’s easy! Some days I am envious of the 9-5 employee. As writers, we rarely turn off the clock. My mind is always working, even if I am not at my desk. My husband jokes that if I had a 36-hour day, I would still work most of it and fill it with writing activity. It can be tough to pull myself away from the desk, but I do recognize it’s also important to take breaks and vacations—which I love to do!
You seem so organized and utterly dutiful. What is your guilty pleasure? Surely you have one.

Oh, I have several. I do watch TV (thank goodness for DVRs) and one of my guilty pleasures is 90210. Like many my age, I was hooked back in the 90s on the original, so I couldn’t miss the latest version. I also enjoy movie nights—on the couch, in PJs, with a bowl of popcorn. One of my biggest pleasures, though, is what I already touched on—travel. My husband and I cover about 30,000 miles in an average year and while some of that is writing-related for conferences or speaking engagements, there’s nothing like a good old fashioned road trip to rejuvenate and relax. We take state and county roads and avoid the Interstate whenever possible so we truly get to see the landscape and see what small-town America is up to. When I come home, I feel refreshed and inspired to work, but for those few weeks on the road… ahhh, there’s nothing like that kind of freedom.

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You can learn more about Lori A. May at her website. You can also friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @loriamay, where she encourages followers to send a warm note to an author whose book you enjoyed (which is vintage Lori). 

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