Elliott Holt attended the Workshop in fiction in 1991.
I just returned from six weeks in residence at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, where I was working on new short stories. It was tranquil and beautiful there and I got so much work done! All my belongings & furniture are in storage right now, because I’m looking for teaching jobs and am not sure where I will move next. For the next few months, I’ll be dividing my time between my sister’s house in Washington D.C. and friends’ apartments in New York City, where I lived for ten years. I’d love eventually to settle in the Hudson Valley, north of NYC.
I’m a writer—of fiction, but also of essays and book reviews—and I supplement my income by doing freelance editing (of both novel and story manuscripts). I love reading and writing and editing, though it’s hard to make a living doing those things!
I read a lot—several books a week, generally. There are certain writers I return to for regular re-readings: Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, James Baldwin, Mary Gaitskill, Charles D’Ambrosio, Anton Chekhov, and Elizabeth Bishop to name a few. And I just reread Moby-Dick (one of my favorite books of all time).
I’m working on a cycle of short stories about two sisters. I published my first novel in 2013 and it was about a friendship between two girls/women, so even though my current project is very different from the novel, it also concerns a very intimate relationship between women. And like the novel, these stories explore themes of dislocation, identity and exile. I lived abroad—in Russia, the U.K., and the Netherlands—for five years in my 20s and am always interested in notions of foreignness.
My first novel, You Are One of Them, was published by the Penguin Press in 2013. And I won a Pushcart Prize for a short story called “Fem Care” in 2011. Both of those achievements mean a lot to me.
My teacher at the Young Writers Workshop noted that, “irony is always present in [my] work.” I was seventeen then, and not consciously employing irony, but it was an astute observation and it’s still true of my work! I had been writing stories since I was a little kid—I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about six—and that summer at the YWW made me believe that I had talent and real prospects. My teacher was so encouraging and I felt so at home in that workshop, among those other budding writers. I knew I was with kindred spirits. I thought, these are my people! And writers are still my people. I have a lot of friends who are writers.
Read a lot. And revise a lot. Better to make your work really good than rush to try to publish.