The Cupboard Interview with Kelly Sundberg
Kelly Sundberg author of the forthcoming memoir Goodbye, Sweet Girl: A Story of Domestic Violence and Survival, will serve as the judge of the Cupboard's Annual Contest, opening March 1, 2018. We asked her a few questions about writing, nonfiction, and all the things that inspire her.
Here is an insight into what our judge is looking for in a winning manuscript.
On June 5, 2018, you are releasing your memoir Goodbye, Sweet Girl: A Story of Domestic Violence and Survival—a book that deals in trauma and its aftermath. How did the process of writing about or through trauma influence the end-product writing itself?
In terms of craft, I don’t think that the process of writing about trauma influenced the end-product. Though the plot was based on the trauma I’ve experienced, I would say that I tried to craft the story in the way that I would craft any story—with lyricism, attention to language at the line level, and with a distinctive voice. Holistically, however, I’d say that my exploration of trauma made my story deeper and more nuanced. In the book, everyday interactions are complicated and deepened by the trauma that is always lurking in the background. A writer that I know once told me that women grow up with danger always nipping at the edges of their lives, and if nothing else, I think that this book is about that danger—the menace that, too often, starts in childhood then continues or manifests in adulthood.
What are you expecting or hoping for from contest submissions—presumably written against the backdrop of a year that has been traumatic for many Americans?
I’m not only interested in trauma stories—far from it—but I’m interested in stories that either introduce me to a different subject, or deepen and complicate existing conversations. Those stories can be universal or intimate; I’m mostly looking for something that resonates with me or strikes me as novel in some way.
You write prose! What excites you about prose forms?
I started out writing poetry, and as a result, I’m always interested in language that sings at the line level, and I’m particularly fond of prose that incorporates lyrical elements. I think that prose is having a really exciting moment where writers are expanding and changing the boundaries of what we consider to be prose, and I’m excited to be a witness to and participant in that moment.
What wisdom would you give to emerging writers who are trying to make it in the literary world?
To work hard and be patient. Success comes at different rates for different folks, but almost everyone I know who hasn’t given up has achieved at least some of what they’ve wanted in terms of publication (I think that very few of us achieve all that we want in this lifetime). Also, to try as hard as possible not to compare yourself to other writers because that’s a destructive tendency, both to others and to ourselves.
What advice do you offer those who enter the Cupboard Pamphlet’s Annual Contest?
Obviously, to send your best work, but also, to not assume that you can predict or know my aesthetic. I have my own writing aesthetic, but my aesthetic as a reader is much broader, so send me something weird, or something normal, or something funny, or something sad. I’m open to all of it.
Kelly Sundberg's essays have appeared in Guernica, Gulf Coast, Denver Quarterly, Slice, The Mid-American Review, and elsewhere. Her essay "It Will Look Like a Sunset" was anthologized in Best American Essays 2015, and other essays were listed as notables in Best American Essays 2013 and 2016. Her debut memoir Goodbye, Sweet Girl: A Story of Domestic Violence and Survival is forthcoming from HarperCollins on June 5, 2018, and it will also be released by PiperVerlag in Germany. She has been the recipient of fellowships from the A Room of Her Own Foundation, Dickinson House, Vermont Studio Center, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is currently completing her PhD in Creative Nonfiction at Ohio University.