Interview with Luke Whisnant

The Lyrical Voice
Poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction: what do you write when you’re not writing narration?

Presented by Luke Whisnant, author of Down in the Flood (stories);Watching TV with the Red Chinese (novel); and two poetry chapbooks, Street and Above Floodstage.

He has served on the staff of Tar River Poetry since 1985, becoming editor in 2006. He also works in advertising and marketing, writing brochure and website copy and feature stories; a project he did for The Publicus Community won an Addy Award in 2014. Whisnant joined the ECU English faculty in 1982, and has twice won his department’s Excellence in Teaching Award.

Luke Whisnant




Luke Whisnant


And now I’d like to share with you our interview with Luke Whisnant:

Question: Author, poet and teacher, which of these has been the most difficult?

Luke: Surely you jest. None of these is difficult in the least when you compare them to truly difficult things. Maybe a better answer, a more forthcoming answer, would be something like “the difficulty           involved in writing and teaching is offset by the happiness each one brings.”

Question: What has been the biggest change in literature during your career?

Luke:  I’d say the biggest change—and in my book the most welcome one—is the tremendous mainstream interest in, and acceptance of, work by women and writers of color. These writers were there all along, but until the past thirty years or so, they were mostly marginalized, forced to live in their own little gated neighborhoods. I’m happy to think that we’re finally past the point where we have to segregate people into “women writers” or “African-American writers” or “Latino/a writers” or “Chinese-American Lesbian Writers” or what have you. At least I hope we are.

The other big change has to do with marketing and production. The publishing industry is undergoing the same kind of change we’ve seen in the music industry and are seeing in cinema, in that the multinational corporations no longer control the sole means of production, the way they used to. Just as anyone can record a CD in his or her living room, or make a movie with $10,000 and a decent digital camera, any writer can easily self-publish a book nowadays. We inmates are in control of the asylum.

That’s not necessarily a good thing but it’s the way things are now.

Question. Do you have a favorite piece you’ve written? Is it finished or is it in the process of being completed?

Luke:  I don’t. I’m pretty fond of some of the stories in Down in the Flood, but I couldn’t choose a favorite.

Question: What have you recently read that you wish you’d written?

Luke:  My mind doesn’t really work that way. I don’t ever wish I’d written some other writer’s sentences. I do, of course, admire other writers’ sentences tremendously, and I steal from other writers constantly. But I steal and transform. It’s unrecognizable after I get done with it.

Question: Do you have a favorite genre to write in?

Luke:  I try not to think in terms of genre. For me that’s counterproductive.
I think a lot of the genre discussion is really about marketing decisions instead of being about writing. I cringe when beginning writers tell me something like “I want to write urban gothic dystopian novels.” I don’t think writing should be reduced to that kind of marketing formula.

Question: Is there another genre you haven’t tried but would like to?

Luke:  Probably not.

Question: What, in your opinion, are the most important elements in good writing?

Luke:  For me, fiction and poetry are not commodities or commercial enterprises. They are art forms. As such, the most important element of good writing is artistic integrity. Everything else depends on it…. That’s my opinion, since you asked. And it won’t hurt my feelings if people disagree.


Don’t forget to sign up for the 4th annual Pamlico Writers Conference and of course our Friday night Kick-off Event, March 18th & 19th. If you haven’t already signed up, go to our website before it’s too late and you miss it.

For more information visit our website:

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We look forward to seeing all of you at the conference.

Kay Wilson


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