#VaReads Writer of the Week: Cathryn Hankla

This week’s #VaReads spotlight is on Cathryn Hankla, author of Galaxies and twelve other books. She is a professor and chair of English and creative writing at Hollins University and served as the inaugural director of the Jackson Center for Creative Writing. Her work has been honored by a PEN Syndicated Fiction Prize, the James Boatwright III Prize for Poetry, and a New York Book Festival Award, among others. She also serves as poetry editor for The Hollins Critic and is a visual artist.

How did you get your start as a writer?

I started writing poems in elementary school on assignment and doubled down on that to include writing stories, and by the time I was an eighth grader I had a regular writing and reading obsession, which some call a habit. I probably had my ten thousand hours in by the time I left high school without having the opportunity to take a creative writing class until I enrolled in college.

Describe your work in three sentences or less.

My writing practice consists of close observation, reading, and intuitive listening to the world around me and to myself, and the translation of that knowledge into a regular writing practice as a means of thought and articulation. The development of skill at writing allows for more precise expression in various modes, including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and points between.

How does living in Virginia influence your writing?

As a native to the state, I am infused with Virginia landscapes, its cultural histories and conflicts, geography, creatures, and plants. All of these have been represented in my work from communities in my fiction to descriptions of cultural clashes and the natural world in multi-genres of my writing.

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

I’ll consider Galaxies: The concept of creating imaginary galaxies with some reference to real stars and planetary science was an interesting idea from which to work. Creating a purposeful cycle of poems on that basis was exciting and compelling to me as a writer always hoping to extend the range of what a poem can look like and what it can encompass and contain in terms of form and content. The urge to stretch against the limitations of the self-imposed concept and my own skills energized the project for me.

What are you working on next?

My intertwined book of essays (or memoir in essays) entitled Lost Places is forthcoming next spring from Mercer University Press. It is a book at least twenty years in the making, in which I consider the question of home from various angles: planet earth as home, the body, domestic space, family; seeking, making, and leaving configurations of home, as well as feeling at home in philosophies and communities. 

There is a lot about the western landscape and Virginia in the book from the creation of my own homes to meditations of Thomas Jefferson’s biography homes at Monticello and Poplar Forest.

To learn more about Cathryn Hankla, visit her website at cathrynhankla.com.

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. 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).