By Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant
We are thrilled to welcome Lisa Locascio as our Executive Director! Lisa brings a strong background in teaching, editing, and writing to the leadership role. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from USC and an MFA in Fiction from NYU. She is co-publisher of Joyland and editor of its West section, as well as of the ekphrastic collaboration magazine 7x7LA. She edited the anthology Golden State 2017: The Best New Writing from California and her work has received honors including the 2011 John Steinbeck Award for Fiction and the 2017 International Literary Award Penelope Niven Prize in Creative Nonfiction. Her novel, Open Me, was published in August by Grove Atlantic to great success.
Lisa has a passion for MCWC born out of her own history with the conference. She attended MCWC 2012 on a scholarship and won that year’s short story contest. She returned as faculty in 2015 and again in 2017.
For this month’s newsletter, Lisa shared a little more about herself and her plans for the conference:
Congratulations on the huge success of your debut novel, Open Me. It’s been featured in The New Yorker and The New York Times, among other accolades. How was the process of publishing your first book?
Publishing Open Me has been more wonderful, challenging, rich, frightening, and rewarding than I could have dreamed—and publishing a book has been my dream since I was a little girl! I was able to combine my move from Connecticut to California with my book tour, and it was an incredible honor and pleasure to meet readers across the country. It was amazing to meet readers who discovered my work through my book and to see the friends who came out to support me. The experience of having Open Me in the world has been heady and rich, and scary too. The anxiety doesn’t end at publication. I find myself wondering, will people read my book? And if they do, will they understand it? Even with high profile positive reviews, it’s easy to fixate on terrible Goodreads comments. Such is the nature of the writer’s life. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to experience all of it, good and bad. Overall enormously good!
How does being the Executive Director for MCWC align with your passion for teaching and writing?
Teaching is a powerful part of my creative practice because it brings me into contact with so many different types of people and provides a delightful social corollary to the solitary act of writing. I’ve always loved crafting my work, but I also get lonely from all those hours of intense solitary concentration. The performance, engagement, and dialogue of teaching appeals to my sensibility as a student of human behavior and an unyieldingly curious watcher. Becoming Executive Director is a natural next step in my career and enables me to serve and develop a literary institution that has made an enormous difference in my life. Here on the Mendocino Coast, I get to be both director and professor, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the students in my English and Creative Writing classes at Mendocino College.
After experiencing MCWC as both a participant and a faculty member, is there anything you would like to improve as the Executive Director? What are your hopes for MCWC?
I love the conviviality and genuine friendliness of MCWC, the dynamite combination of the sublime landscape and the remarkable people who gather for that special weekend. As Executive Director, I look forward to celebrating, strengthening, and expanding the conference’s profile on the Coast and in the world. I want to see more international scholars and teachers, as well as representation of writers from the local tribal nations and Latinx community at our conference, and to open up a conversation between MCWC and fellow annual gatherings of artists and writers such as the Tin House Writers Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Prague Summer Program. I’d love to see workshop offerings in nature and travel writing and potentially in some new genres such as radio storytelling and graphic novel. The only thing I’d hope to “improve” is the addition of some dancing to the Saturday night banquet!
You started at MCWC as a scholar and now are returning as the Executive Director and have published and won many awards in the mean time. If you had three tips for aspiring writers, what would they be?
Read. Don’t stop reading. Did you read already? Time to read some more, then. Read what you love, read what you don’t, read everything. Ask for recommendations. Develop opinions and challenge and change them. Read things you can’t imagine anyone else would want to read and read what everyone else seems to adore but you think you’ll hate. Understand that everything you read is part of your writing. Understand that reading is your most powerful tool for improving your writing.
Don’t be afraid to be yourself. This sounds basic, even cliché, but is actually incredibly important if you want a career as a writer. Be upfront about understanding who you are. It’s what will make your writing authentic and worthwhile.
Lean into revision. All writing is rewriting. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a lying charlatan who should not be trusted. Your revision practice should be a vibrant, life-affirming part of your writing—proof and reassurance that you can fix anything. Revision is the flexible and fluid cerebrospinal fluid of the creative process. Get into it. Listen to it. Prepare to be confounded, frustrated, troubled, delighted, and well-served. Revision is your friend.
When you’re not reading and writing (and revising), what is your favorite way to relax? Do you have a ‘happy place’?
I love to cook and have been having a lot of fun with my new Instant Pot, which enables me to make one of my favorite staples, dried beans, in incredibly short periods of time (as well as pretty much anything else one could imagine). I am a witch, and spending time at my altar means doing cardwork with tarot and other oracle decks, casting spells which are usually but not always organized around a candle and working with rocks and crystals.
Mendocino is my happy place, the place I wanted so badly to live for so long. Here, I’m able to do so many things I love: pilates and yoga, hiking, and studying plant magic with the local herbalist Liz Migliorelli. I am also working on my next book, trying for the first time in my life to hold myself to 1500 words every time I sit down to write. While the act of writing is not exactly relaxing, it is exhilarating, and it reminds me why I’m here, the creative pulse that leaps behind everything I do. And after I’ve written, the feeling of having written is very, very relaxing indeed.
Lisa and the MCWC board are already hard at work on next year’s conference! Be sure to keep an eye on this blog for announcements about MCWC 2019. And if you are missing Mendocino, you can click here to view Mimi Carroll’s beautiful photography of MCWC 2018.
To find out more about Lisa Locascio, check out her website at http://www.lisalocascio.com/.