Interview with Sebastian Matthews

Sebastian MatthewsSebastian Matthews, a graduate of the University of Michigan’s MFA program, teaches part-time at Warren Wilson College and edits Rivendell, a place-based literary journal. He is the author of the memoir, In My Father’s Footsteps, and co-editor, with Stanley Plumly, of Search Party: Collected Poems of William Matthews. His poems have appeared in Atlantic Monthly, New England Review, Post Road, Seneca Review, Tin House, and Virginia Quarterly Review, among others. Matthews was a recent Bernard De Voto Fellow in Nonfiction at Bread Loaf. His chapbook, Coming to Flood, was published by Hollyridge Press in 2005 and a collection of poems, We Generous, was published by Red Hen Press in February 2007.

Sequoya Review: On the poetry side at UTC, many of us are used to Rick Jackson’s workshop style. Do you operate your workshops under a certain philosophy? How do your workshops tend to work?

Sebastian: I actually borrow a bunch from Rick’s “Inside/Outside” approach. I love how he asks the group to enter into the language of a poem before trying to talk about it or fix it. But I have been experimenting with different workshop approaches–small groups, the low-residency packet system, etc. I am a little bored by the standard workshop, I guess. Thought I always end with “strategies for revision,” which allows ideas to be offered up by the group on how the writer might re-approach–or re-vision–the piece. “If I were you…” The writer gets to pick and choose, like being handed an assorted box of chocolates.

SR: Do you prefer to write in the morning or at night?

Sebastian: Morning. I had to train myself to do it early because of the way my wife and I live our lives. When our boy, Avery, arrived I had to learn to write later in the morning. That was hard. But now I just take a walk after my boy goes to school and come back to the desk. It works.

SR: It’s a part of pop-culture that every story’s been told and all we can do now is play with the pieces. As a writer, how do you respond to that philosophy?

Sebastian: I try to ignore it. It’s probably true but who cares when you’re sitting down to write, you know? It’s another example of how having too much information can ruin a moment. Like in that great Dr. John song, “It happened in the wrong place at the wrong time.” It’s up us to prepare ourselves for the task, I think, so I try to clear my mind before I write. And when I am done for the day, I’m usually too tired to think about the story anymore. My boy is calling for me to shoot hoops, anyway. So it’s easy to pretend–necessary, in fact–that I have an original story to tell. Otherwise, I might just turn on the TV or pick up a book.

Interview by Brian Beise & Trenna Sharpe (2009)
For more information about Sebastian Matthews and his publications, click here.

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