by Jackson Bicknell, staff writer
Catherine Reid has taught creative writing at Warren Wilson for eight years. Last year before she went on sabbatical, Reid applied for the North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship. A few months later in August, she got a call informing her that she had won the $10,000 fellowship. “I was thrilled,” Reid recalled during an interview with the Echo.
JB: Can you describe the project that you plan to fund with the money received from the fellowship?
CR: The project I’m currently working on is connected with my sabbatical project, which is the investigation of the life and writing of William Bartram. I have a book outlined and a publisher interested in my writings. In theory, the fellowship will help allot me more time to work on my project. There is a lot more travel and research to be done, along with archives to spend time in and documents to look at.
JB: Can you tell me a little bit about William Bartram?
CR: He was an eighteenth century Quaker naturalist and fabulous writer and helped describe the New World for his and future generations. He was living in Philadelphia and his father was the King’s botanist and they were cataloging plants and to do so would go on long long journeys, and keep detailed journals. William Bartram then went on a four-year excursion through the Southeast, kept extensive notes, and discovered all kinds of species. He was also living with native people and conducted the first ethnographic studies on the Indians of the Southeast, as one who was just fascinated by the detail of other peoples lives- but not as a trained anthropologist.
JB: Can you explain your draw to Bartram?
CR: I’m looking at him as a writer examining another writer and how a naturalist examines another naturalist. It was a fascinating confluence of themes. It was just before the American Revolution. He started off as a British citizen, [and] became a patriot in the U.S. There was a lull in the interaction with native peoples. Towns were just starting to get a foothold, market economies were growing. It’s just a very fascinating time and he was on the cusp of it. It was before the Southeast was degraded by mining, logging and cattle ranches. It was still pretty raw. It was a landscape that we will never see again that he was describing. We just have to imagine, but his words really evoke sound, smell, color and interactions with native peoples and early settlers.
JB: Where do you plan to travel to?
CR: It will all be within the northeast. More time in Philadelphia, more of the places Bartram spent time in, trekking some of the trails he documented. The cool thing is I got this fellowship and it was for a body of work that I had already done, but I am going to use it to help fund new work.
JB: Is anyone helping you with the research?
CR: I am relying on countless historians that have come before me, but I’m approaching it in a way no one else has by thinking of him as a creative writer employing the same techniques I’m asking students to look at today; how to create tension, momentum and flow in a creative non-fiction realm.
JB: Have you been talking about your findings at all in class?
CR: I have brought up the process a lot. I love the process, I love feeling like a student delving deep into literature. I feel like I am connecting again with the delight students have when they learn something new and pursue a big question. There is lots of curiosity.
JB: Can you walk me through the publication process from start to finish?
CR: I have a book coming out in february. I sent it to my agent, [who found] a press. Then a contract is negotiated. [It] involves an advance, a check they give you against future royalties. And then there is a back and forth between the editor and the writer. And then a final manuscript is sent back to the editor. And then a galley is created, mock of the book, a physical copy. Then I have one more chance to make editing changes on an as close to finished copy as they can do it but there is one more chance for proofreading. Then it goes into the publication process. [Then there is a] book launch, tour full of meetings then I can sit back and write the next one.
Editors usually like to edit alongside writers during the process.
JB: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
CR: This is such an inspiring place to work. The students here are incredibly innovative and imaginative. And sometimes I wish I wrote as well as them… or some of them.
JB: Do you think the college environment breeds creativity?
CR: The Triad expects it. If you get a degree from here, you are going to go into the world well-prepared. Because of the work and service components, because we aren’t just an academic program. Most of the crews demand incredible innovation and problem solving skills, excellent communication, responsibility, time management, the list is pretty long. Plus you learn what it takes to support a life.