An Interview with Elissa Minor Rust
(Previously published on March 23, 2018)
Elissa Minor Rust, author of The Prisoner Pear: Stories from the Lake, a collection of twelve short stories set in Lake Oswego, is a well-loved, quirky English professor here in Oregon. Proud to be a Northwest author inspired by Oregon's natural beauty, she also works to inspire young writers every year. I had the privilege of catching up with her and asking a few questions.
Q: What set you on the path toward becoming a writer?
A: I knew for a long time that I wanted to be an English professor. I took creative writing courses during my first term of college and knew I had found my calling. I started out as a poet, but soon learned I enjoyed poetic prose in fiction more than poetry. I had some amazing mentors that got me where I am today.
Q: How has the Oregon literary community helped shape you and your work?
A: When I first moved back to Oregon after graduate school, I received a generous Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship that helped me finish my first book. I think Oregon is great about supporting its writers, and the community is lovely. I've met so many wonderful friends through the Portland writing community.
Q: What about Oregon inspires you to write?
A: I love everything about Oregon. My first book was set in a Portland suburb, and I had such a great time writing it. I also find when I need to escape to get inspiration to write, I can easily be in the mountains or at the coast. There is no greater inspiration than the natural world, and here in Oregon we have that in abundance.
Q: What do you like most about teaching and encouraging others to write?
A: I absolutely adore teaching. I knew I wanted to be a professor before I knew I wanted to be a writer. There is an energy in a writing classroom that's palpable, which makes me want to be a better writer and teacher. The most satisfying thing about being a professor is continuing to get notes from past students with news about their successes in the world of writing and literature.
Q: What has teaching helped you learn about your own writing?
A: Every time I teach a class, I am reminded anew about how one should approach the craft of writing. I talk about process a lot with my students, and how each person has to figure that out for themself. As I explained my own process to my students over the years, it struck me how my process has changed and evolved over time as I had children, taken on more responsibility at work, etc.
Q: Is there anything you wish you had known when you started out?
A: Honestly? No. I am tempted to tell my students these days how few jobs there are in creative writing and in the world of higher-ed, but then I think: what if someone had told me the realities of the job market I was going into? It might have scared me off. I'm lucky that it worked out for me--a full time tenured professor, chair of the English department, etc. If anything, I would have liked to have known how many different ways there are of working in this profession, and to not get discouraged if there are periods of time when your own writing ebbs and flows.
Q: What piece of writing are you proudest of?
A: There is a story in my short story collection (The Prisoner Pear: Stories From the Lake) called "Moon Over Water." Its my favorite of all my stories. People either love it or hate it" there's no in-between. Its magical realism and inspired by my interest in science and how people respond to the unknown.
Q: What are some your creative goals now? I read on your website that you're working on a YA novel. How is that going?
A: I am working on a YA novel and a memoir, sort of simultaneously. It is going slow but steady!
We'd like to thank Elissa for joining us and sharing her experiences with our readers!