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Will Arbery

Alumnus, 2006

Will Arbery attended the Workshop in poetry in 2006 and joined the residential staff as a teacher and counselor in 2009 and 2012.

Where are you living and what brought you there?

I’m living in Brooklyn. I moved here because I knew that I would have collaborators from college and YWW. There are so many opportunities here for young artists. Also, when I was in high school in Dallas, New York was a mythical place. I had a dream once that I was lowered into the city by a rope attached to a helicopter. Once I got here, I realized how hard it is to suddenly have to be an adult, and New York is an especially hard place to have that realization. But I’m glad I did it, and I hope to come back. In the fall, I’ll be moving to Chicago for two years to attend the MFA writing program at Northwestern.

Where are you working and what do you enjoy about it?

I make money as a private tutor, but since graduating I’ve led the most haphazard financial life imaginable. Sometimes I’m very lucky, sometimes I’m not. I once paid a month’s rent by writing a school song for a private school in Northern Iraq. I’ve temped in offices, packed boxes, interned at a playwrights’ organization, run lines with a TV star, and more. I like to have a flexible schedule to make art, but money can be pretty panic-inducing. Luckily, tutoring has been a little bit more steady, and it exercises my YWW muscles.

What do you find yourself most often reading/listening to lately and why?

I read on the subway. I’d recommend John D’Agata’s anthology The Next American Essay, which presents creative non-fiction at its fullest. I’ve also been reading Montaigne’s Essais. I like non-fiction these days. I’ve also been watching a lot of documentaries. My I-pod got burgled so I don’t listen to enough music these days. But I’ve been listening to a lot of Justin Bieber. It’s research.

What are you working on right now and what does it represent in the larger body of your artistic accomplishments?

Segue! I’m working on a show about Justin Bieber that I started workshopping at YWW last summer. In the piece, which is becoming weirder and darker, Justin is devoured by real-life 18th-century French omnivore Tarrare. I’m developing the show with three performers, a director, and a choreographer. I’m also working on two other plays. One is an ambitious three-act play about a theater company adapting Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time. We don’t actually see the play-within-the-play, but rather the talkback on closing night, and then the set strike, and then the cast party. It’s a structure that loosely mirrors that of the novel. It’s a fourteen-person cast, and we’ve been devising it together through improvisation and workshop. I’m writing the script based on their work. I’m also working on a site-specific play for two girls about the effect of technology on friendship. This is a time of exploration for me. I don’t want to nail down my “style” so I’m doing as many different things as I can. 

What are your publications, performances, albums, and/or achievements that seem most important to you at this point in time?

I’ve worked in some exciting spaces in New York, including Dixon Place and The Flea. I performed in The Kennedy Center, as a dancer, which was very exciting. My proudest publication has to be my “In Which Tarrare Eats Two Coveted Boppers” in Better: Culture & Lit. My boss and friend at YWW last summer, Laura Eve Engel, was poetry editor for that exciting new journal, and she offered to publish my insane anthropophagic monologues.

How would you characterize the influence of your YWW experience in your life?

There’s no way to put it into words. All I know is that nothing was the same afterwards. I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I knew more about bravery. And community. And everything. I’m not done learning from YWW.

What’s the best advice you can give a Young Writer (in general or in your specific genre)?

You’re not just your clever mind. You have a body. Writing is a physical act. Turn off the internet. Stand up, meet people, and don’t let your writing exist in a vacuum. Write on your feet.