Lit Fest 2022 PReview: Q&A with Visiting Author P. Carl

Editor's Note: In advance of the March 12 deadline to apply for Lit Fest Advanced Workshops, we've asked the 2022 Visiting Authors for a preview of their workshop style, what they're reading, and more.

What's the most surprising source of inspiration for you lately? Birds. It’s all I am thinking about right now. A year ago my wife and I moved to our version of the country in Southern Rhode Island after a lifetime of urban living. I put out one bird feeder last winter on our 1.5-acre property, previously any property we owned could only be described in a few feet. I now have twelve feeders and a side yard bird sanctuary. But backyard birds don’t usually exceed more than 25 or 30 species most of which have visited the feeder so I started walking around Rhode Island which is a state filled wildlife refuges, nature preserves, state parks, and bird sanctuaries. I am the only Rhode Island birder I’ve come across who pulls up to a refuge on a motorcycle. I began to photograph these birds in part because it would be much easier to identify them but also because I love photography in the most amateur way. Then I invested in a very nice Zoom lens. Then I started printing the photos in wallet size and giving them to people, sending the images in a letter or putting them in a Rhode Island mug for a visitor. Then I started making bird journals for friends with images and random species info, and little bits of personal writing. The delight expressed by the recipients of these little mediocre creations makes me want to deliver more so I always have one or two or three in progress. I read about birds every free minute. But mostly I watch them and marvel at their communication, their forms of play, their ways of maintaining territory. I have never believed less in my mind as a tool for knowing. Bird watching lives in my body. I find myself laughing, talking to myself and the birds, laying on sand in the tall grass marveling at the various ways ducks move atop the water. Hours pass and I’m stunned when I see the time on my watch. My wife with more than half seriousness asked if I was having an affair. I admitted yes, absolutely. I am in love. I texted her the next day, “I have fallen for a Bufflehead. The green and maroon shine of its head illuminated by sunlight is irresistible. We have been laying together by the shore all morning. Just wrapping up. Home soon.”

What are you working on these days? I am working on two bigger projects. I have adapted my memoir into a stage play that will premiere at the beginning of 2023 at the American Repertory Theater at Harvard and then move to New York.  I am developing that play through a series of readings and workshops. I am also working on my next book about birds, the electric sparks my brain receives from an implant every three minutes, and the interruptions in life that feel more like a definition for living than a detour.

How would you describe your workshop style? I am a natural teacher. It is in my DNA and I have been giving feedback to writers my entire career so I feel I have great expertise in creating a relaxed environment very quickly as I feel relaxed in a classroom and that tends to translate. I think life is brutal, particularly to artists who risk so much to satiate the need to do something that more often disappoints than affirms so I work always from a place of generosity and a desire for each student in a class to feel seen as they see themselves. I also am a very prepared instructor, my mind is an electrical circuit box that connects all the power sources – a blessing and a curse when writing but great for teaching as it gives students a lot of ways to think about their own work, especially when it comes to memoir writing than is only interesting when it’s about something other than the author. I will easily change the direction of a class when the situation calls for it, when I see an opportunity to do something more meaningful or helpful than what I had planned. I like listening. I love talking to students one-to-one. I also use a method of communication with students, the voice memo, that has proven an to be an amazing way to create connection. They sit in a room alone and just talk to me for 10 or 15 minutes. This is very awkward at first as I am told in the voice memos. I listen. I can’t interrupt. I reply with a voice memo to what I think I heard.

Any interesting/unusual writing habits? I am answering these questions on an airplane. I sometimes take flights just to write. I hate the environment of an airplane passionately so my body instantly turns to writing in an effort to go elsewhere. I wrote much of my first book on different airplanes traveling to different parts of the world.

P. Carl is teaching Weeklong Advanced Nonfiction Workshop: Writing Time. Learn more here. Apply via Submittable.