Amy Woolard, author of Neck of the Woods (winner of the 2018 Alice James Prize), is a legal aid attorney living in Charlottesville. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. She a 2019 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Poetry.
What books have you read recently that have made an impact on you?
Woolard: I love lists, but they can also be like the perfect comeback: never completely on the tip of your tongue exactly when you need them. That said, here is just some of what I’ve read lately that is still rearranging the furniture in my brain:
Discipline by Jane Yeh
Baby, I Don’t Care by Chelsey Minnis
The Tradition by Jericho Brown
Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
Hold Still: A Memoir by Sally Mann
Bootleg by Annie Woodford
Grand Marronage by Irène Mathieu
Human Hours by Catherine Barnett
Felon by Reginald Dwayne Betts
A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib
What was your favorite part about writing your latest book?
Each individual poem was really its own victory. I started writing seriously in my teens & twenties, but then—due to a couple of circumstances—went through about a 12-year writing drought. The poems that pulled me out of it came as they all do, one at a time and without any indication to me that I was, in fact, writing a book. So I s’pose it’s fair to say that each poem was my favorite part—that electric moment between jotting things down & truly shaping some lines & stanzas when I knew what I was writing was a poem.
Where do you prefer to do your writing?
For quite a while, when I first started writing, a bed was the only real piece of furniture I owned, so that’s where I’d write. That’s pretty much how it’s stayed ever since—occasionally the kitchen table for revisions. But never a cafe or anywhere in public—there is way too much distraction in other people. A decent amount of Neck of the Woods was also written while traveling—either on a hotel bed, or in a friend’s apartment while they were at work and I was home alone. Writing, for me, requires sanctuary—a casual siege situation.
What are you working on next?
My next collection of poems is titled WAGE, and it’s a kind of love-letter to my decade of life as a restaurant worker and to Charlottesville. Having lived it for many years, I’m very interested in precarious work and the survival instincts it requires. I’m also working on a collection of essays and reported pieces that consider many of the poverty policy issues I’ve dealt with in my legal aid career.
What advice would you give to beginning writers?
Read widely and trust yourself. But also: don’t listen to writing advice.
Amy Woolard was scheduled to take part in the 2020 Virginia Festival of the Book. You can learn more about her work by clicking here, and you can order her books from a local bookseller by clicking here.