Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Writer: Colin Rafferty


What is your go-to pen(cil)? The Uniball Signo 207. As a left-hander, I don’t get to have fountain pens, but I really love the way that this pen grabs the paper while still writing smoothly.

Most beautiful word in all the world: “Elizabeth.”

Alter ego: I don’t know, really—I write nonfiction, so an alter ego seems outside the rules. Sometimes, when I sit down to write, I tell myself to go into B.J. Hollars Mode like athletes tell themselves to go into Beast Mode.

What’s for dinner? Spicy Sesame Soba Noodle Bowls—we try to eat vegan at home, mostly for environmental reasons, but also because I don’t want my heart to explode at 46.

What’re you reading? Usually a couple books—right now, it’s Louise Gluck’s American Originality, June Skinner Sawyers’s Read the Beatles, and Return of the King, which is the book about LeBron James and the 2016 NBA Finals, and not the one about hobbits.

Who is your most-recent writer crush? I really dug Kathleen Rooney’s novel Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, and her twitter feed is chock full of her on-demand typewriter poems. She’s a great example of being a writer in both real and virtual lives without being overly tech-y about it.

Song lyrics stuck in your head, go: “Enemy sighted / enemy met / I’m addressing the realpolitik,” from R.E.M.’s “Exhuming McCarthy.”

You’re a new edition to the Crayola box. Congratulations. What is your new name? Shocking Beige.

What are you putting off? Writing the last essay of a collection I’ve been working on for five years. I thought writing essays about the presidents would be a fairly stable thing; I was wrong.

What was the last gift you gave someone? I sent copies of Michael Martone by Michael Martone and Void and Compensation by Michael Morse to some pals from college (neither of whom are named Michael).

What were you like as a college or graduate student? In flux? I was in grad school for six years (two years for an MA at Iowa State, then four for an MFA at Alabama), and I changed a lot over that time as a writer and a person. I think if nothing else, I was always really happy to be there and really curious about what could be done with the essay, which at the time—2001 to 2007—felt like a form with very little definition. I loved that freedom about it, and still do.

Here’s your free ticket. Where are we going? I’d love to go to Petra, the stone city in Jordan. In fifth grade, I wrote a murder mystery set there, so it’d be a nice rounding of the circle to see the setting.

Doodle: Attached is a drawing from the comic book I did in fifth grade about a group of superheroes with vegetables for heads. My drawing ability has never really improved from there.

rafferty doodle

Colin Rafferty teaches nonfiction writing at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He is the author of Hallow This Ground, a collection of essays about monuments and memorials, published last year by Break Away Books/Indiana University Press, and is at work on two more books of nonfiction. He lives in Richmond, Virginia, with his wife and their dog.


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