Alison McGhee: 'Every Writer is First a Reader'

McGhee Talks Creative Writing, Life as Writer at 2017 Festival

By SDHC Intern Ashley Kosters (scroll down for Ashley's bio)

From an early age, Alison McGhee always knew she wanted to be a writer. For her, literature was her savior and she was never lonely if she had a book. A couple of her childhood favorites were "Heidi" by Johanna Spyri and the "Little House on the Prairie" series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

As a result of her own childhood reading experiences, she was inspired to create stories that are relatable to her audience, so that they themselves never feel alone. McGhee believes this is common among authors.

"Every writer is first a reader."

McGhee is really looking forward to attending this year's South Dakota Festival of Books. "It's like having your cake and eating it too!" she said of being part of a large gathering of readers and writers. "There's this kind of energy when you get readers and writers together. I thrive on that."

Creative Writing Workshop Held Friday, Sept. 22

On Friday, Sept.22, McGhee will be leading a creative writing workshop. (Purchase tickets here.) There, attendees will be given writing prompts and will have the opportunity to share their ideas and receive feedback from McGhee. "I love to hear people's stories, to experience that give and tell of sharing ideas."

On Saturday, Sept. 23, the community will have the chance to talk with McGhee about what a life of a writer is like and how to "find courage and inner strength to keep writing, even when the road may be lonely at times."

In her own writing process, McGhee usually starts by giving herself a goal of 2,000 words per day, regardless of the quality, and goes from there. This is an important takeaway for any aspiring author: to trust the process, even when at times it may seem chaotic.

McGhee also tells those starting out, "Know that you are a creative being. Every human being has the potential to be creative. If you want to be an artist, in any form, translating life and experiences into art, is a powerful way to share your art."

Writing for All Ages

One unique aspect of McGhee's career is that she writes for all ages. Her works include children's novels, picture books, young adult novels, and adult novels. McGhee began publishing novels for adults, but expanded to younger readers as a challenge. She has since developed a philosophy of writing for children: "It is important for children to recognize their power, and that they have so much courage and this inner fortitude."

McGhee's new children's book, "Pablo and Birdy," goes back to her idea of finding comfort in literature. In the book, she addresses the themes of belonging and finding one's self that children and adults can both identify with.

In addition, McGhee's latest adult novel, "Never Coming Back," will also be released this year. The two main characters are from her previous book, "Gone Baby"; however, when McGhee first started writing the story she did not realize that the mother-daughter pair were the same character. The development of these characters and their overall story reinforce McGhee's ideas of trusting yourself in the process and letting your ideas come together, even when the process isn't clear.

Originally from upstate New York, McGhee considers herself to live a semi-nomadic life. She currently resides in Minneapolis, she has a house in Vermont, and in the winter, she escapes the frigid cold out in California.

Purchase Tickets to McGhee's Workshop!

Tickets are on sale now for Alison's creative writing workshop Friday, Sept. 22 from 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. at the Deadwood Public Library Main Floor. Reserve your spot today!

Purchase tickets to Alison McGhee's writing workshop

Editor's Note: We'd like to introduce you to our new intern, Ashley Kosters! Check out Ashley's bio below. She interviewed Alison McGhee and will be helping with various tasks through the fall. 

Hello! My name is Ashley Kosters and I am excited about interning with the South Dakota Humanities Council over the fall semester. I am originally from Mobridge, South Dakota and I have been living in Brookings for the past two years. I am studying English and Marketing at South Dakota State University. One of the main reasons I decided to study English is because of my passion for literature. I believe literature has the power to transcend societal boundaries and influence lives, which is why I am excited to be part of an organization rich in literature and culture.

In my spare time, I enjoy spending time with my friends, going for walks with my dog, reading, and working out. My favorite series will always be Harry Potter, but recently I have been indulging in psychological thriller novels – my favorite being "The Girl on the Train." As an English major, I have had the pleasure of exploring new genres; for example, earlier this year I read my first western novel, "The Shootist" by Glen Swarthout, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Interning with the South Dakota Humanities Council is an amazing opportunity to become more involved with literature, as well as the community, and I am looking forward to the experiences I will gain from my time here.