Author of 11 books
Marilyn Stablein has the geniality of a native Californian. She possesses a self-effacing modesty and quiet attentiveness that figures in her work but that belies her accomplishment. She is the author of 11 books. Splitting Hard Ground, a poetry collection, won the New Mexico Book Award. Other books include the memoir Sleeping in Caves, and a collection of short fiction entitled The Census Taker.
She and her husband Gary Wilkie own Acequia Booksellers, 4019 4th Street, an excellent used bookstore in the North Valley and on-line at acequiabooksellers.com where Marilyn?s books are available for purchase.
ABQ A&E: Sleeping in Caves is an account of the seven years you lived in India and Nepal. It impressed me that you integrated Tibetan Buddhist practices into daily living. What can you share with readers contemplating the expatriate life?
I dropped out of UC Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement in 1964-5. My boyfriend and I had hardly any money. When I needed to eat, I taught myself to cook. When I arrived, I learned women could not expose the crotch, so my jeans had to go. It was a good time to travel. It wasn?t a frivolous experience but a way to gain knowledge. On an extended journey, every traveler should keep their eye, ear and mind open. Each river and mountain has a story and history to tell. Ask questions. Learn the local customs. Develop a poet?s eye, a humanist?s awareness.
ABQ A&E: Splitting Hard Ground is an ?ethnography of memory,? a collection that includes poems of grief, loss, letting go. Was it a difficult book to write?
It was difficult in that it took a long time?about seven years. My son was born and conceived in Nepal. He died tragically at 28. ?Grief takes a long time to process. After five or six years, I was able to gain more distance and wrote some of the key poems. I?m a slow writer.
ABQ A&E: Can you talk about your writing process?
I wrote haiku in high school. It was a short poetic form, accessible and portable.? Since I had no typewriter, it was the only creative writing I did while traveling. Later I?d expand and elaborate the work into poems and stories. After my son passed, I got back into poetry. You don?t really want to elaborate on grief. Recently, I?ve finished another book of poetry and a collection of essays titled Ink, Paper, Words and Text about learning to write, books that influenced me as a child, the arts of bookmaking and calligraphy.
ABQ A&E: The Census Taker reads like a series of vignettes about a female traveler in Asia. What writers have have influenced your work?
The humor in the stories emerges from the crazy juxtapositions of East and West. I hadn?t read any fiction about Asia, except for Herman Hesse?s Siddhartha. I?ve been lucky to have had good teachers like Donald Barthelme, James Welch and Raymond Carver for fiction, Carolyn Forche and William Matthews for poetry, and Philip Lopate for nonfiction. Since then I?ve gravitated away from fiction, because it?s hard to write about subjects like family, and fiction seems to require grittier, juicier stuff. I tend to a more reflective sort of writer?and slow.
ABQ A&E: Still, I?m astonished by your productivity. Can you offer aspiring writers any secrets?
I?d advise beginning writers to keep journals, write regularly, and don?t worry about editing at first. You can always do that later. Just write. I keep three journals: a writing journal, a dream journal, and a visual arts journal. In fact the title of The Census Taker appeared to me in a dream. As for social media, I only use it to publicize events. I don?t have time for anything else.??
??Richard Oyama is a freelance writer. His first novel, The Orphaned, is?forthcoming.