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Life and Work with Melissa Grunow

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melissa Grunow.

Melissa, please share your story with us.
I started writing as early as I can remember because I always loved stories. I used to “read” books to my younger brother long before I could actually read. I always knew I wanted to create my own stories someday.

I set the record at my high school for most writing awards won and went on to pursue writing in college and continued to craft short stories throughout graduate school. Throughout all those years, though, I felt like I was aspiring to be a writer, even though I was writing. I finally felt like a true writer when I had my first story accepted for publication in Wilderness House Literary Review in fall 2013.

Now, I am the author of the award-winning memoir, Realizing River City, which was published in 2016. My second book, I Don’t Belong Here, will be published September 1. Named one of the anticipated books of 2018 by The Coil, the journal of Alternating Current Press, I Don’t Belong Here is a collection of personal essays that examine situations that raised unanswerable questions, shoddy memories that shudder with remnants of doubt, and always a subtle sense of guilt that has surfaced from introspection and the passage of time. The writing seeks an absolute, yet illusive, truth in an ever-changing world within an uncertain understanding of self.

The full book description is below:
What does it mean to belong? In a place? With a person?
To a family? Where do our senses of security and survival lie? This book ruthlessly investigates alienation during moments of transit and dislocation and their impact on women’s identity. These twenty essays—ranging from conventional to lyrical to experimental in form and structure — delve into the root causes of personal uncertainty and the aftershock effects of being a woman in an unsafe world. Provocative, authentic, intimate, and uncompromising, Melissa Grunow casts light on the unspeakable: sexuality, death, mental illness, trauma, estrangement, and disillusionment with precision and fortitude.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has most definitely not been a smooth road! If writing isn’t hard, you aren’t doing it right. I Don’t Belong Here deals with themes of sexuality, death, mental illness, trauma, estrangement, and disillusionment, all of which require some intense reflection, introspection, difficult truth, and candor in order to be fully explored. The book is a collection of twenty essays that vary in form, structure, use of language, and depth of exploration. I fought and doubted myself the entire way while writing this book, uncertain that I could even do it. Once it was done, I wasn’t entirely sure if the world was ready for it or if I was ready for the world to be exposed to such intimate details of my thoughts and my life. When each of those moments of self-doubt crept into my head and started to interfere with the work, I had to put it aside and remind myself that sharing my truth isn’t just important, it’s necessary. If we, as women, don’t share our stories when we feel ready to do so, then we can never have true autonomy in our lives.

My advice for other women, particularly young women, who are writing personal essays or memoir is to prioritize your commitment to craft and to the truth. If you constantly worry what people might think when the work is published, then you’re never going to finish it. Be open to feedback and criticism to make the writing stronger, but don’t let someone’s opinions about the content interfere with the work. If you focus on making your writing the best writing that it can be and you hold yourself accountable to telling your truth, then any negativity you might encounter from people who take issue with the content simply won’t hold up. Don’t think about publication while you’re writing. Put the writing first and then decide if you want to submit it to agents and publishers for consideration when you have a solid manuscript.

Please tell us about Author.
In addition to authoring, Realizing River City and I Don’t Belong Here, I have also written dozens of essays and short stories that have been published in literary magazines throughout the United States. My work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, Two Hawks Quarterly, New Plains Review, and Blue Lyra Review, among many others. Some of my work is available online as many journals have a web presence. You can find links to my work at my website.

I have also been awarded a number of writing prizes. Most recently, my essay “Bite” won second place in the Spring Arts Prose Competition and my short story, “Coffee in the Morning” received an honorable mention in the Gertrude Stein Fiction Contest from The Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review. I was a Pushcart Prize nominee in 2014 for my essay “Home” and Limestone named my essay “We’re All Mad Here: A Field Guide to Feigning Sanity” as an Editor’s Pick and reprinted it in their 30th Anniversary issue; the piece was also listed as a Best American Essays 2016 Notable Essay.

I would say what sets my work apart is that it’s both highly literary in its use of language and form, but it’s also accessible to a wider audience because of the writing style and subject matter. My work is, at times, dark and weird, but it’s also intense with underlying moments of humor.

In addition to writing, I am also a teacher. I have taught college-level English and writing for 14 years, from developmental level through graduate courses. I push my students to find their own voice when they write, and I place a lot of emphasis on the revision process, as I know how much it has benefitted my own writing. I also teach online courses for WOW! Women on Writing and retreat-style writing workshops for writers at all levels. Teaching writing has made me a better writer because I have learned how to wade through the unnecessary text to get to the true purpose of the piece and then direct students to make their writing stronger without deviating from their vision. By critiquing and providing feedback to others, I have learned how to not only receive feedback in a constructive way but also be a critic of my own work.

There’s a wealth of academic research that suggests that lack of mentors and networking opportunities for women has materially affected the number of women in leadership roles. Smart organizations and industry leaders are working to change this, but in the meantime, do you have any advice for finding a mentor and building a network?
The best thing a writer can do to connect with other writers is to be a good literary citizen. That means following other writers on social media and supporting them. It means buying, reading, and reviewing their books on Goodreads or for a journal. It means attending readings, conferences, workshops, writing groups, and taking classes to meet and support other writers. While writing is a solitary activity, being an author is a community endeavor. As you connect with and support other writers, your relationships become more authentic and finding (or becoming) a mentor happens organically.


  • * Realizing River City: A Memoir (Tumbleweed Books, 2016): $16.95
  • * I Don’t Belong Here: Essays (New Meridian Arts Press, 2018): $24

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