Lauret Savoy: Writers on Writing

The award-winning author of Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape shares the most important thing she has learned about writing.

Lauret Savoy
Lauret Savoy (Photo by John Martins)

Lauret Savoy’s book Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape won the ASLE Creative Writing Award and American Book Award, was a finalist for the Phillis Wheatley Book Award and PEN American Open Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Orion Book Award and the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. Savoy’s writing and editing often draw on her work as a geologist. She is co-editor of The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World and Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology and is a co-author of Living with the Changing California Coast. In addition to being an author and geologist, she is also a professor and photographer and currently serves as David B. Truman Professor of Environmental Studies and Geology at Mount Holyoke, a Seven Sisters College located in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?

There isn’t a single most important thing that I’ve learned but a few, all linked together. And I hope that I’ll learn much more in time. My writing began in my struggle to answer – or at least come to terms with – questions that long haunted me, questions like these: If each of our lives is an instant, like a camera shutter opening then closing, what can we make of our place in the world for that instant? And then, over time and space, what do generations of instants mean?

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I learned that the past I come from is broken and pitted by gaps left by silences stretched across generations. By losses of language and voice. By human displacements. By immeasurable dimensions of lives compressed and deflated under the weight of ignorance and stereotype. By dismembering narratives of who “we the people” are to each other in this land.

And how has that helped you as a writer?

What comes first to mind is responsibility, the ability to respond, the capacity to attend, to stand behind one’s acts. It is a key word for me. I have a responsibility to re-member, to piece together the fragments left as a way of pushing back forgetting, forgetfulness. By confronting emptiness and erasure, I believe the writer can un-forget. Hélène Cixous’s words come to mind. Reflecting on the works of Clarice Lispector, Cixous described writing as “touching the mystery, delicately, with the tips of the words, trying not to crush it, in order to un-lie.” Yes.

 

—Gabriel Packard is the author of The Painted Ocean: A Novel, published by Corsair, an imprint of Little, Brown.