June 11, 1998
When Elizabeth Stuckey-French says she admires William Trevor for those stories of his in which the subjects are "funny and awful at the same time," she is confirming the fact that we often recognize in others' work what we aspire to in our own. Both of Stuckey-French's Atlantic stories, "Junior" (April, 1996) and "Electric Wizard" (June, 1998), certainly deserve the praise she gives Trevor's work: each story hinges on an awful situation (an attempted murder in one, a suicide in the other), yet although both are funny and almost lighthearted, neither lapses into being coy, farcical, or sarcastic. That this balance is difficult for any writer to achieve makes the accomplishment impressive; that Stuckey-French has been writing for just over ten years makes it even more so.
A graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, where she was a Teaching-Writing Fellow, Stuckey-French has been living in and around Iowa City ever since she earned her M.F.A. She has been a social worker, a writing-test specialist for ACT, and a creative-writing instructor in public schools and universities. Now she writes full time with the aid of a James A. Michener Fellowship. The recipient of two other grants, including an Individual Artist Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission, Stuckey-French has published stories in various literary magazines and in the anthology New Territory: Contemporary Indiana Fiction. This fall, with her husband and two children, she will move to St. Lawrence College, in New York, to teach fiction writing.
Elizabeth Stuckey-French spoke recently with Atlantic Unbound's Katie Bolick.
You didn't start publishing your stories until the late 1980s. How long have you been writing?
Off and on throughout my life I have written stories that I would then put in drawers, or show to my parents or teachers, who would say, "That's nice." I didn't think much about writing them. I certainly never thought of it as a career. But after burning out as a social worker I moved back to Indiana, where I'm from, and got a job writing feature articles for the Purdue news service. I liked interviewing people and finding out about them, but because I hated having to stick to the facts, and kept wanting to make up dialogue, I knew journalism wasn't for me. That's when I started taking courses in Purdue's M.A. English program, and as soon as I took a fiction-writing class I was hooked. I'd always liked writing stories, but I'd never revised before -- it just hadn't occurred to me that you could make stories better by revising them. But once I started I couldn't get away from the computer. I've never been so obsessed with anything in my life. I knew right away that it was what I wanted to keep doing.