This year is the fifth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered the Alumni Award. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting Q&A’s with this year’s recipients of the Alumni Award, today’s with Chelsie Bryant.
Chelsie Bryant is an Ohio native currently living in Portland, Maine. In her spare time, she enjoys photographing her cat, har, who spells his name in lowercase because he makes the rules; he doesn’t follow them. Her work has been featured in Willow Springs, Michigan Quarterly Review, Yemassee, Passages North, Word Riot, and other places. She won the Willow Spring Fiction Prize in 2016 and holds a Master of Fine Arts from the Ohio State University.
How did you find out about Iceland Writers Retreat originally?
I saw someone tweet about it a couple of years ago. It might have been Lauren Groff or something about Lauren Groff being there. I don’t travel often, though I always want to. Seeing a big-name writer endorse the retreat made it that much more enticing, and I was determined to go sometime in the future.
Have you ever applied for the Alumni Award before?
No, I have not. Last year, I remembered the retreat when it was too late to ask for recommendations to apply for the award. At the time, I thought I might be able save enough to go without the assistance and I even opened a separate savings account to do so. About two months into saving, my cat ate a hair tie (it wasn’t mine!) and got really sick. It cost thousands of dollars to get him well, which meant that the few savings I had accumulated went toward the get-cat-healthy fund. I’m happy to report that he’s back to his normal sweet self today and I get to go to the retreat this year, so it has all worked out okay!
What are you most looking forward to about the Retreat?
I am most excited about immersing myself among a community of writers again. Before I moved to Portland, Maine (United States), three years ago, I was in graduate school where I was surrounded by wonderful writing professors and peers who challenged my work and made me better. I find being in an environment connected by mutual obsessions exhilarating. Of course, I would be remiss not to say that I’m also excited about going to Iceland and experiencing a new culture. Who wouldn’t be?
What and/or who do you find inspiring?
As a whole, my work is animated by quirk and thematically interested in women rebelling against the expectations and barriers of the feminine archetype. I am often inspired by minute observations of seemingly out-of-place objects, emotions, and turns of phrase. For me, stories are born of voice usually inspired by a tiny observation that gives way to questions I feel compelled to answer. Can I write a story from the P.O.V. of an animatronic t-rex skeleton? How might a child react to her mother’s fear of a neighborhood flasher when she doesn’t understand what that is? What would it be like if a teenage girl fantasized about starring in her own romance novel?
How has writing influenced your life?
On an emotional level, writing allows me a level of confidence that I rarely feel emboldened enough to express in real life. It appeals to my neurotic tendencies, allowing me to obsess over things that I can control since I’m running the narrative. On a physical level, writing has been responsible for several of my living choices. I stayed in Cincinnati after undergrad to continue schooling for my MA at the University of Cincinnati. That’s where I made the majority of my closest friends and grew the most emotionally as a human being and a writer. Even though I didn’t grow up there, I think of Cincinnati as my home. For my MFA, I moved to Columbus to attend Ohio State, where I met more wonderful people and continued to grow and realize my voice. These degrees were completed back-to-back over a period of five years. When I finished undergrad, I hadn’t expected to stay in Ohio or academia that long. Now, I can’t imagine my life without those communities, and I wouldn’t have them without writing.
What do you find to be your biggest challenge in your writing life?
Since I finished my MFA in 2016, I’ve been working as a technical writer at a mortgage company. Working full-time has been far and away the biggest challenge to my writing life, as I simply don’t have enough energy or hours in a day to finish what I want to create. It has forced me to become a more disciplined writer. I separate my work and home life from my writing life in every way I can–I use a different device for creative work, a serif font for my stories and sans serif for technical writing, and I even have designated writing spaces. Technical writing is only done at the office, answering email is only done at home, and writing fiction is only done at my favorite tearoom (Dobra Tea, if you’re ever in Portland!).
Any final comments you’d like to share with our followers?
First of all, I’d like to use this space to give my cat another shout out. I have only mentioned him once so far and if I don’t mention him at least twice my friends will think this interview is fake. Second of all, I would like to thank the Iceland Writers Retreat for choosing me as a recipient of this award. When Erica called me to tell me I’d won, I was trying to drive back to Portland from Ohio in the middle of an ice storm and I almost didn’t answer because I didn’t recognize the DC number. I did at the last minute because I thought it might be Elizabeth Warren calling to thank me for donating to her campaign (a girl can dream!), so I suppose I should thank her, too, because without her I wouldn’t have answered that call and then I would have had to check my voicemail and who knows if I would have survived that. Finally, I’d like to give my cat one more shout out because talking about him twice frankly isn’t enough.
The prestigious Alumni Award is funded in by generous IWR alumni and friends. It gives its recipients full or partial funding to attend the next Retreat, which will take place April 29 to May 3, 2020 in Reykjavik. The winners are chosen based on both merit and financial need, and submissions were reviewed by IWR alumni volunteers. We received hundreds of applications from around the world and the quality of submissions was extremely high. Read a previous interview with Abak Hussain here on our blog.