Earlier this month, Kelly Corrigan released her latest memoir, Glitter and Glue, which explores the bond — sometimes nourishing, sometimes exasperating, occasionally divine — between mothers and daughters. We caught up with the New York Times best-selling author while she was on tour.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Seventh grade. We read To Kill A Mockingbird and the teacher said this was the only book the woman wrote. I thought it was cool that someone would just write one great novel. Little did I know that for us mere mortals, that is all but impossible.
What does your writing process look like? Is it as painful as they say?
My "process" can't even be called a process. I am a mom first, so writing gets jammed into the nooks and crannies of family life. But my kids now leave the house at 7:30 a.m. and don't walk in the back door until 3:30 p.m., so that leaves me plenty of time to write, think about writing, pretend I'm writing, berate myself for not writing, clean the dust bunnies when I should be writing ... Yes, it's painful. I read writers way beyond my pay grade so I always know how far short I fall from really great work.
You were an English major at Richmond. Tell us about your experience here.
I loved my courses at UR. The small classes, the long discussions, the totally accessible teachers like Dr. Steven Barza, who not only helped me when I was enrolled but many years after when I had started the book that became Glitter and Glue. He took me seriously. That's big. A real Ph.D. who doesn't think your writing is a joke. I lived on that for many years.
Why does it still matter to have English majors at college today?
Here's what I know from 25 years in the world: if you can shape your thoughts and express them, both in writing and in your speech, the world is your oyster. Sit in any meeting, listen to any pitch, negotiate any deal, and you will find the leaders and the winners are the ones who can communicate. I sometimes think everyone should be an English major.
What’s your advice to the English majors and would-be writers today?
Write every day. Success comes with time in the chair. Post your work online for public consumption; it will make you work harder on every piece. I like Medium. Read every day, and only the best stuff. Make sure you know what good writing looks and sounds like. And eventually, when you really believe you have taken the pages as far as you can, find a smart (preferably much smarter than you) reader to give you honest feedback. And then rewrite the whole thing. Rinse and repeat.
Tell us the story behind Glitter and Glue.
I left my childhood hell-bent to get as far away from my mother as possible. I was going to be a world traveler, a real Life Eater, not a housewife. But here I am, at 46, and my housewifery is absolutely central to my life. I find family dynamic more interesting than just about anything else. Ripping yarns about daring-do? Who needs them? Tell me about how you relate to your parents, to your spouse, to your children. Tell me the worst fight you ever had, the hardest apology you ever had to make, the person you are most afraid to lose. I think about my mother all the time and the role she played; as she said, "Your father's the glitter, but I'm the glue. It takes both, Kelly." I didn't get it back then. I get it now.
What’s your favorite mistake?
Such a great question. And so many possible answers. I guess in some ways, my favorite mistake was thinking I wanted to go to UVa and ending up at UR where I met the best friends and had the time of my life, both in the classroom and on fraternity row.
If you had to choose another career path, what would it be?
I do some very gratifying volunteer work for Children's Hospital Oakland and I worked for United Way for the first 10 years out of UR. Nonprofit, save-the-world stuff is where my heart is. That's where real, lasting satisfaction is possible. I am actually torn at the moment about my next move: write a novel or throw my hat in the ring for a very cool foundation job I saw posted recently. Impact. I crave impact.
What are you reading now?
Marilynne Robinson's Gilead is damn near perfect. I am endlessly moved by her writing. I bow down to Gary Shteyngart, who wrote Super Sad True Love Story and Little Failure. I devoured Bossypants and am sure that Tina Fey and I are bound to be best friends.
Corrigan is also the author of Lift and The Middle Place. She’ll be back on campus this spring for her 25th reunion and will do a reading from Glitter and Glue Sat., May 31 as part of Reunion Weekend festivities. You can read more about her work at kellycorrigan.com.
Photo credit: Betsy Barnes