Emancipator staff member Chasia Eidson recently conducted an interview with Mark Powell, one of the South’s rising literary stars and a judge for the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival’s annual writing competition. Powell is the author of Prodigals and Blood Kin, which won the Peter Taylor Prize.
Eidson: Why do you love writing?
Powell: I'm not sure, to be completely honest. Maybe it's the desire to create things, to tell stories and build worlds, maybe it's just that that's what I do. I only know I can't imagine my life without it; when I don't write I get anxious and don't feel well. Writing is so much a part of my identity I feel like a ghost without it. Flannery O'Connor said writing was her "habit of being." I like that answer a great deal.
Eidson: Who is your favorite character in your writings?
Powell: Probably James Burden in my novel 'Blood Kin.' He's broken and vulnerable, and completely honest. He has followed a path divergent from the spiritually-empty conformity of a modern society mindlessly drugged on TV and celebrity. Ironically, it is partly to his detriment, but I always admire underdogs and outsiders, anyone who wants to live on his or her own terms.
Eidson: Which writers do you admire?
Powell: I believe Ron Rash to be the exemplar of writer and gentleman. Ron has been generous to me beyond belief. So too have a number of other writers: Silas House, George Singleton, and John Lane, to name three. I admire writers who are willing to engage with the world: Tolstoy, George Orwell, Janisse Ray—anyone willing to stick his or her neck out.
Eidson: Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing?
Powell: Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. Now I would add Dostoevsky to that list, too. The other principle influence has been growing up in a talkative family full of stories: everything I've ever written has been based in some way on something I've seen or heard.
Eidson: You have visited Lincoln Memorial University before - what was your impression of the campus?
Powell: I loved my visit to LMU. Seldom have I been treated with such hospitality and warmth; from the reading, to the cottage we stayed in, to dinner. Some of my closest and kindest friends are at LMU. And of course the woods—the trees and hills—I'm a man who swoons over trees.
Eidson: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Powell: Read everything, everyday. And write every single day. You have to center your world on the written word. It's a way of being that comes from years and years of discipline. Write, and don't worry about what anyone thinks. Write because it's what you do. –e-