Ronnie Hess, a Wisconsin radio reporter in a morning newsroom, is met with surprise and an unlikely friendship in “Not Exactly the Graveyard Shift” (Issue 1). In her interview, Hess discusses influences, her favorite genres, and her motto (which is not from a pop song.)
Born and raised in New York City, Ronnie Hess came west for graduate study (MA, History) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A career in broadcast journalism followed with travels around Europe for CBS News. She was a Knight Fellow (PJP) at Stanford University in 1978-79. Hess writes frequently on food and travel and is the author of a culinary travel guide, Eat Smart in France, as well as a poetry chapbook, Whole Cloth. She drinks only French champagne and has a particular fondness for dark chocolate.
What inspired you to create this piece? I actually didn’t think I had anything to say about “Morning” and then I had a grain of an idea about a time when I got up early for work.
How would you characterize your creative process as you worked on this piece? On this piece, things came more slowly than they often do. I didn’t realize what the story was about until after I got started. It took a direction I hadn’t expected.
What writing or other artistic expression has had a profound impact on your writing? There have been so many, it’s hard to answer this. Constant reading across genres, authors.
What is your favorite genre to read? I read poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, as well as cookbooks! I think it’s memoir that I keep coming back to, which incorporates the strongest elements of fiction and creative non-fiction. But I’m particular here. I really don’t like memoirs of drug abuse and dysfunction.
Where do you create? I have a study in the basement but I usually work at the kitchen table. I like working surrounded by light and I love kitchens, generally.
Who has been influential in your writing/creative work? So many people. An English teacher in high school was the first (besides my mother) to encourage me to write. Without her, I don’t think I would have been interested in poetry and expressing myself with words.
What do you do to help yourself get over a creative block? Working as a journalist, on deadline, can be a killer. Sometimes, it’s good to walk away from something, even for a long time, which you can’t do if you’re on deadline. Write about what you love without stopping. See what happens.
What living writer would you recommend other nonfiction writers read? Pattiann Rogers, The Dream of the Marsh Wren: Writing as Reciprocal Creation (Milkweed Editions, 1999). Rogers is an extraordinary poet, a keen observer. We need to look out as much as in. And anything by Naomi Shihab Nye. Her generous spirit (as well as craft) lifts you. It’s a privilege to read her.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about this piece, in particular, or about your creative process, in general? I revise a lot.
You say that your piece took an unexpected turn. What were your original intentions? I started out writing a piece about work, about getting up early in the morning, and the newsroom. I did not expect that the essay would turn into a recollection of a friendship and a more generous way, thanks to his teaching, of looking at the world.
We asked Ronnie to dip into the “Proust Questionnaire” and select a few fun (less writing-related) questions to answer.This probing set of questions originated as a 19th-century parlor game popularized by contemporaries of Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist, who believed that an individual’s answers reveal his or her true nature.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? I don’t believe in second comings, but there are a lot of dead people I’d like to talk to.
When and where were you happiest? Summers on Fire Island. A year at Stanford University. Paris in the 80’s.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? All of them. I have to keep from repeating myself.
What is your greatest extravagance? Probably a $1,000 painting. Or a $1,000 coat that was 50% off.
Which talent would you most like to have? I’d like to be a musician, or speak several languages, things you need to start when you’re young.
Who is your hero of fiction? Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.
What is your current state of mind? Curious.
What is your motto? Well, I just found out it’s not just from a pop song – “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I’m not sure it’s true.
This interview was curated by Erika Williams, Proximity‘s Interview Series Coordinator and a creative writing student at Ohio University.