An Interview With John Bennion

We are excited to have John Bennion returning to Solstice this year! The class he will be teaching is entitled “Writing Family History with a Sense of Place.”

John answers some questions for us:

• Why should writers consider writing nonfiction?

Fiction writers and poets draw from their own lives, but essayists and memoirists get to write about their experiences without inventing material; their tools are honesty and clear vision. In a way, saying that is a distortion, because reimagining the past, reinterpreting experience, and gaining new vision are essential to the nonfiction writer. This kind of writing is essential for experts and for people who want to write for themselves and their families. I believe that as children (and adults) we create our identities as we tell and retell stories about personal history, family culture, community practice, and experiences with the earth. It is a glorious mode of recording lived truth.

• What’s your favorite nonfiction book?

I have several favorites. In the category of memoir, I like Growing Up by Russell Baker and Goodbye to Poplarhaven: Reflections of a Utah Boyhood by Edward Geary. In personal essay I like Pat Madden’s Quotidiana and Philip Lopate’s Against Joie de Vivre. In the category of natural history writing I love Wendel Berry’s The Gift of Good Land, Amy Leech’s Things That Are, and George Handley’s Home Waters: a Year of Recompenses on the Provo River.

• What are your writing habits?

When I’m happy, I get up and write in the morning for 3-4 hours. I actually mean, when I write for 3-4 hours I feel happy. That doesn’t happen much when I’m teaching. Sometimes I have to get a fix at night when everything else is done. When I’m rolling, I can grab an hour here and there and make it work. Dean Hughes is the model; he writes 8 hours every day, like going to work.

• What do you do when you aren’t writing?

Teach, take students outdoors to experience the natural world and then write about it. Play basketball. Read mystery and science fiction novels. Spend time with my children and grandchildren. Work in my garden.

• Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

After my masters thesis defense, my mentor Doug Thayer said to me, “If you write for 4 hours a day for 10 years, you’ll become a pretty good writer.

• What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were starting out as a writer?

I wish I had known how much work it takes to get something published. I might have not gotten discouraged so easily if I’d had in my head that my efforts had to be complete. I thought that talent would make the job easy. I also wish I’d known more about the process of publishing.

And just for fun…salty or sweet?

Both. I love yogurt-covered pretzels, popcorn with salt and gooey sugary stuff on it, and those roasted almonds that have both salt and sugar on them. So good.

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