"An MFA is not required to be a good writer, nor is it necessary for publication, but it opens so many doors; not only in a networking sort of way, but in one’s own mind. It absolutely changed my writing—and my life—for the better." Rhonda Browning White
Meeting Rhonda was one of the best things about my MFA at Converse College. She managed not to murder me over the 30+ days we lived together during residencies, even though I often broke the don't speak before coffee rule. A fierce supporter of her family and friends, Rhonda's strength is palpable. And she has a new story, "Things Long Dead," up at Hospital Drive!
Out of all of your accomplishments, what are you most proud of and why?
I’m proud of earning my MFA in Creative Writing. During that two-and-a-half-year course period, I moved into a new home, changed jobs, ghostwrote a novel and edited three more books, plus did all the things a working wife and mother usually does, all while earning my degree. It was quite difficult, and there were days while writing my critical thesis that I wasn’t sure I could finish, but I did it—and I’m so glad I did! An MFA is not required to be a good writer, nor is it necessary for publication, but it opens so many doors; not only in a networking sort of way, but in one’s own mind. It absolutely changed my writing—and my life—for the better.
What are you currently working on? How long have you been working on it? How did you become interested in it/ where did you get the idea for it?
Short stories have been my focus for the last several years. I’ve completed the first draft of a collection, and about half of those stories (five of which have been published or are forthcoming) have reached their final form. Also, I’ve just crossed the halfway point of the first draft of a novel set in Appalachia. But let’s not forget reading. I’m always “working on” continued study of the craft of writing. Right now, I’m reading Andre Dubus III’s Dirty Love, and through it I’m learning so much about description and setting, and how a character’s observation or description of something as simple as a kitchen table can speak volumes about their mindset or inner turmoil. It’s fascinating.
What issue are you currently most passionate about? What is the one thing you would like people to know or understand about this issue?
I’m passionate about compassion. Our country is in such a fevered state of upheaval right now, but if only we showed a bit more compassion toward others—especially those who have a viewpoint that differs from our own—we could change the world as we know it! It’s often as simple as saying, “I respect your opinion, but let’s agree to disagree. Let’s still be friends, okay?” A respectful turn of phrase like that can calm even the most argumentative person. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be respectful. That’s all.
What book or film with a female protagonist would you recommend and why? What female author’s work would you recommend and why?
Many names come to mind, but I’m quick to recommend my mentor Leslie Pietrzyk’s This Angel On My Chest; a collection of short stories about women who are dealing with grief. That emotion affects all of us at some point, and the poignant ways in which her characters hide from, deal with, and eventually learn from their heartache is stunning and forever memorable. I’ve also recently enjoyed Julia Frank’s Over the Plain Houses, a novel set in historic southern Appalachia and told in the lyrical voice of the folks who live there. It’s a story of marital misunderstandings, strewn with folklore, violence, religion, and a sprinkling of magic that kept me reading into the wee hours of morning.
Name one woman who has influenced you/ had an impact on you, perhaps as a mentor. Why and how did she impact your life?
In addition to my aforementioned writing mentor, I’d have to say that my momma, Nilene Walker Browning, has had a huge impact on my life as a writer. My childhood was filled with books; weekly visits to the bookmobile (rural folks know what I’m talking about), regular trips to the library in town, and birthday gifts that were weighty and rectangular. Oftentimes when I’m writing, I’ll hear the lilt and cadence of my momma’s voice in my head, and it’s the stories that she and my daddy told me and still tell me that find a place in my pieces.
I’d also say that author Denise Giardina’s work greatly affected my writing. There was a sorrowful time in my twenties when I was ashamed of my Appalachian dialect and the hardscrabble West Virginia coal-mining region in which I grew up. Then I read Storming Heaven and The Unquiet Earth, and I not only discovered my own voice in those pages, but I felt—and still feel—damned proud of it!
Rhonda Browning White resides near Daytona Beach, FL and works as a medical manager, adjunct professor, and ghostwriter. (She works hard to support her writing habit!) Her work appears in HeartWood Literary Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Steel Toe Review, Ploughshares Writing Lessons, Tiny Text, New Pages, South85 Journal, WV Executive, Mountain Echoes, Gambit, Justus Roux, Bluestone Review, in the anthologies Appalachia’s Last Stand and Mountain Voices, and is forthcoming in Qu Literary Magazine, Hospital Drive, and World Enough Writers: Ice Cream Anthology by Concrete Wolf Press. Rhonda received the 2016 Sterling Watson Fellowship for the Eckerd College Writer’s Conference: Writers in Paradise. She blogs about books, writing, and celebrating life at “Read. Write. Live!” found at www.RhondaBrowningWhite.com, and about the craft of fiction writing at www.WhyTheWritingWorks.com and www.InspirationForWriters.BlogSpot.com. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College in Spartanburg, SC.