14. Mysticism & Maturity: A Dialogue with Author Stephanie Reents


Stephanie Reents is the author of The Kissing List (Hogarth, 2012). Her work has appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories, Best of the West, Epoch, StoryQuarterly, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, and Denver Quarterly, among other places, and been noted in Best American Short Stories and Pushcart Prize. She earned her MFA from University of Arizona and has been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, a Stegner Fellowship, and a MacColl Johnson Fellowship for fiction from the Rhode Island Foundation. An Associate Professor of English at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, Stephanie lives in Cranston, RI with her husband and multiple cats.


Stephanie’s website: stephaniereents.com


On the creation of The Kissing List

“I was sifting through the stories on my hard drive–because I didn’t want to start working something new–seeing if there was anything partially finished that I could attempt to finish. I realized that I had been writing a number of stories about young women, without being fully cognizant of it, and it suddenly made sense to me: Why don’t I have a collection of stories about young women figuring out that decade after they graduate from college?

“It wasn’t a collection of interconnected stories. The connecting of the stories didn’t happen until after the collection had been acquired by the publisher. My editor suggested that I try connecting the stories, which was very psychologically challenging.”

On writing mystical, unreal stories…

“Any writer knows that you have to use your own life for scale… We use the places we know, and we use some of the experiences we’ve had, to create the texture of verisimilitude or believability in a story or novel. So, I definitely draw from experiences I’ve had or places I’ve lived in order to make things feel believable, to give the story the texture of something that’s real, even if it’s obviously not real.”

On applying to MFA programs and being accepted at the University of Arizona…

“Much to my horror, I was rejected by ten [MFA] programs. And I was engaged in that kind of magical thinking that said, If I don’t get into any programs, it’s going to mean I’m a really terrible writer. And that belief was affirmed for me.”

“I had never been to the state of Arizona. I arrived a month before the program started with all my stuff and my cat and no place to live… I grew to love Tuscon. I thought it was the perfect place to be a poor graduate student. The ability to step outside into sunshine every day really cheered my spirits as I tried to write stories.”

“After I graduated, I taught at U of A for another year. I was an adjunct professor. I made $15,000 a year for a 3-3 teaching load, but I was super grateful to have that position because it included health insurance.”

On maturity and writing seriously…

“Increasingly, I think that a lot of it has to do with accepting the kind of writer you are. The kind of writer I am is not a super fast writer. Also, the kind of person I am is a person who likes to do a lot of other things besides write. While I’m certainly lazy and procrastinating and undisciplined… I’ve just come to be more accepting of who I know myself to be as a person and a writer.

“For people who are finishing an MFA, and who are feeling anxiety about publishing, I think you just have to candidly assess who you are and what kind of life you want to have.”

“That fantasy of getting a huge contract for a first book–I think we’re all susceptible to that fantasy–I don’t know that it necessarily serves a writer’s career super well.”

“Your first book comes out, and you’re the same person you were.”

Who’s Who

University of Arizona MFA in Creative Writing

Junot Diaz — Author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and This Is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist.

Emily Forland — Stephanie’s agent

Teach for America

Bob Houston — Professor of Creative Writing at University of Arizona

Stegner Fellowship — A writer’s dream gig at Stanford University in California. Fellowships include a living stipend of $26,000 per year. In addition, fellows’ tuition and health insurance are paid for by the Creative Writing Program. The Stegner Fellowship is a full-time academic commitment, and is not intended to be pursued concurrently with another degree program. Fellows must live close enough to Stanford to be able to attend workshops, readings, and events. Visit the Stegner webpage to learn more.

Closing Quote

“Writing fiction is like remembering what never happened…This is a subject I continue to think about and play with — there is much still to be discovered. The shifting character of conscious memory, the fact that we do not have any original memories — they change over time and are continually reedited and reshaped — and that neurobiologically the same areas of the brain are involved in both autobiographical remembering and imagining brings the art of memory and the art of fiction into a close relation. There are also unconscious memories and involuntary memories, which appear to be different in kind and probably more reliable. When I write fiction I feel as if I am dredging up the story in a way very similar to my efforts to remember something from the past, even when the events have nothing to do with my own life.” ~ Siri Hustvedt

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