#VaReads Writer of the Week: Elizabeth Poliner

Welcome to a new blog series from the Virginia Center for the Book, in which we highlight the work of one Virginia writer each week. Through this series, we hope to showcase the depth and breadth of our state-wide literary community while also encouraging readers in the Commonwealth and elsewhere to challenge themselves to read more books by Virginia writers. Each featured writer will respond to the #VaReads Questionnaire, giving you, the reader, a chance to learn more about them and their work.

If you have an author you’d like to suggest for this series, please email sdlawson@virginia.edu with details. Our focus is on writers with books that have been published in the past two years (self-published is welcome as long as the writer’s most recent book is held in at least one public library in the state). 

To kick things off, this week’s spotlight is on Elizabeth Poliner, author of the novel As Close to Us As Breathing. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared widely in literary journals including the Kenyon Review, Southern Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Colorado Review. She is a recipient of seven individual artist grants from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, fiction fellowships to the Wesleyan and Sewanee writers’ conferences, and artist residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Elizabeth teaches creative writing in the MFA and undergraduate programs at Hollins University where she is an associate professor.

How did you get your start as a writer?

I was always writing as a kid, so I started young. But because writing wasn’t a viable career within my family, I pursued a degree in law after college. But just before I went to law school (at the University of Virginia) I took a writing course—”Prose Style Workshop”—and just fell in love with writing all over again. So I went to law school knowing I really wanted to write, and began writing seriously once I graduated law school.

Describe your work in three sentences or less.

In my fiction I write about the ways in which people are interconnected, for better or worse. Even my poetry touches on this subject.

How does living in Virginia influence your writing?

I tend to set my work in Connecticut, where I grew up, so in some ways being in Virginia gives me the physical and emotional space to do that, and to see the place better because I’m seeing it from some distance. In other respects, being in Virginia inspires my writing because where I work, at Hollins University, there are so many wonderful writers in the form of my colleagues and students, all doing such wonderful work. It’s a happy place to write.

What’s your favorite part of your most recent book?

My most recent book is my novel, As Close to Us as Breathing, and my favorite part would be the characters, an extended family of about ten people, all of whom are central to the story. That’s a lot of lives to dream up, and I became really close to these characters as I developed them over the years of writing the novel.

What are you working on next?

I’m currently working a new novel, also with a large cast, though everyone isn’t related by blood as in my previous one.

To learn more about Elizabeth Poliner, visit her website at elizabethpoliner.com.