Arriving late is never fun. You stand in the doorway awkwardly hoping no one noticed. When I walked into the downstairs meeting room to catch the end of Hillary Jordan’s talk, I didn’t expect the packed room. Every seat was filled and the hushed room’s attention directed to the front. Jordan stood reading part of her latest book to a group of over 40 people. The crowd was diverse in ages from 30 to 70, but all caucasian and seemingly middle class. Oh Wisconsin. Why is there such a lack a diversity at these events that cater to all people?
After finishing her reading, Jordan took questions from a very interested and writer heavy crowd. When asked about her writing process, she said, “I find it incredibly chaotic, messy and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.” However, she alluded to a pretty standard writing daily writing schedule and remarked that most of the magic occurs during re-writing. Mudblood, her debut novel, required 11 drafts before it was complete. “I pull [the story] out of my head one sentence at a time.” Each draft was a labor, but she claimed that most authors have to cut a lot more than she did. She credits working in advertising for her ability to be concise. One audience member asked about her favorite books. Jordan admitted to not reading enough. “Reading is so depressing because you’re like ‘Oh! They’re so good! … I’m never gonna write so well!” That’s a sentiment many writers can identify with.
I was disappointed that she grazed over questions about publishing. In fact, many of her answers were rather ‘big picture’. Perhaps that was her aim, but much of the audience, myself included, had hoped for an in depth discussion on what kind of issues she ran into as a first time novelist in getting published. Her thoughts on that, much like those other authors spoke throughout the festival, were “Good Luck.”
BIO: Hillary Jordan has won wide-spread acclaim with her first novel, Mudbound. It was awarded the Bellwether Prize for Fiction (2006), which goes to an as-yet unpublished literary novel addressing issues of social justice. Published in 2008, the book went on to win a 2009 Alex Award from the American Library Association and was named one of the Ten Best Debut Novels of the Decade by Paste magazine. Mudbound is set in the Mississippi Delta of 1946 and centers on two families, the McAllans and the Jacksons. The family members’ struggles with love and hate, past and present, and honor and betrayal drive the story to a point of tragedy then unexpected redemption.
Jordan grew up in Texas and Oklahoma. She received her BA from Wellesley College in Massachusetts and her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. She lives in New York and is working on her next novel.