What We Talk About When We Talk About Writers: An Interview With MFA Student Josh Sheridan

Josh

Welcome to another  installment of WWTA. Over the course of the year, we’ll  be interviewing the writers who make up the first class of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. This week we corresponded with Joshua Sheridan over email.

Originally from West Virginia, Josh moved to New York to pursue a career in kitchens. He  received his associate’s and bachelor’s degrees from the Culinary Institute of America. Afterwards, he switched gears and went into education, working in an alternative school in Schenectady as a 7th-grade teacher before applying to the MFA program.

What drew you to the MFA program?

Initially, location. I was (and am) living in Schenectady, and there aren’t many – okay, there aren’t any – options as far as MFA programs within any kind of reasonable distance. I also dug the rolling admissions thing, because no matter how I sliced it, I was going to get processed late. When I met with Professor Nester, he was amazing at laying out the pros and cons of an MFA, and I walked away feeling like I could make a good, solid, informed choice about my future (for once).

What or who inspires you to write?

I think I’ve always wanted to write. I can’t say that I’ve always known why, but the want was always there. I have this image, and have had it for as long as I can remember, of a farmhouse, and a desk, and a breeze against the paint, and you know that green, green grass that you only so rarely see? I wanted to be behind that desk.  Re member the part in Stand By Me, the River Phoenix movie, where Richard Dreyfuss is writing at his desk and his kids come in and tell him they want to go to the pool, hurry up, hurry up? I want to be that dad.

Who is your favorite author?

Sometimes I feel like this is a trick question, because in a way, a library is like a toolbox, isn’t it? I try to read whoever I’m in the mood for, and avoid who I’m not; that doesn’t necessarily mean I prefer one over the other… some songs suck when you’re happily married but make you weep like a fountain when you’ve just broken up with your girlfriend. Writing can be like that, too. That being said, I return to Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, and Jonathan Franzen a lot. For pure escapism, I have several of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch mysteries laying around.

What do you hope to accomplish by the time you graduate?

I don’t need money to be happy. I’ve never really been that guy. But I hope that, somehow, I can write something (or some things) that contribute in a positive way to the American literary canon. I hope that going through the MFA process will set me on an appropriate track for that. There are tons of young American writers – I’m thinking Jonathan Safran Foer, Jesmyn Ward, Junot Diaz – who are working to solidify America’s place at the top of the world’s slush pile with their writing. I’d like to hop on that train.

Also, I guess I hope to gain some insight into how other people write, and maybe more importantly, how other people read.

It wouldn’t hurt to have shaken some influential hands along the way, amiright?

What are your long-term goals for writing?

To always write from the gut, shoot from the hip, be true to myself, and never use clichés.

What was the last good book you’ve read?

The last good book I’ve read… the last book I read that made me nervous and shaky and I wanted to throw it across the room  was A Million Little Pieces, before everyone knew it was fiction (and guess what? Even if it’s fiction, it’s still good).

The last book I read that made me laugh hysterically was Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You.

The last thing I read where a character’s name frustrated so much I couldn’t finish the book was Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, who named one of the cops Detective Boney, and I can’t abide that.

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