10 Questions with Jodie Noel Vinson

Amal Zaman

On a Chilly January morning in 1893, Louise Imogen Guieny took the train from Auburndale to Boston and made her way with the brisk, long-legged steps of a practiced walker to 246 Boylston Street. When the poet entered the warmth of Perkins Hall, her gold-rimmed spectacles must have immediately fogged over. Yet even through the clouded lenses Louise might have seen the room was close to full—could word of the Women’s Rest Tour Association have spread so quickly?
--from “The Unprotected Females of the Women's Rest Tour Association” which appears in the Spring 2017 issue (Volume 58, Issue 1)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you’ve written

My first published piece was dictated to my mother when I was four and sent in to a magazine that had put out a call for submissions on “Thanksgiving.” It had something to do with being thankful for some stuffed animals who were not real, and for my mom, dad, and two sisters who, I make clear in the piece, are real. In a way, my fascination with the difference between the “real” and the “not real” has never left, as can be seen in some of my essays since that brief debut, which often explore the influence a piece of fiction can hold over our real lives.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?

When I first read In Search of Lost Time, I became so immersed that for some time it was impossible not to emulate Proust—those lovely, long tangential sentences. I have since moved out from under his influence to differentiate my own voice, drawing on contemporary writers like Olivia Laing, Elif Batuman, and most recently Maggie Nelson, whose experimental style has expanded the way I think about writing creative non-fiction.

What other professions have you worked in?

After a very short stint in front of a high school English classroom, I found my métier in bookstores. I’ve worked as a bookseller for the past ten years at independent bookstores in Seattle, Boston, and Minneapolis and currently serve as Managing Editor of Longitude Books, an online travel bookstore. Bookstores have been conducive and at times crucial to the cultivation my creative life. I’m in touch with new trends in literature, I meet writers at events, and behind the register. That said, the question of how to sustain a practical career while maintaining a rich artistic life is a challenge I continually wrestle with.

What did you want to be when you were young?

A veterinarian. Then in high school I did a sort of internship and, elbows deep in a flea bath filled with two stray beagles—or maybe it was when I had to feed the office lizard live crickets—I discovered I did not love animals in quite the way I thought I did when I was twelve.

What inspired you to write this piece?

Through my MFA program at Emerson College I took a class on archival research, taught by Pulitzer Prize winner Megan Marshall. Throughout the course we visited archives around Boston and took inspiration from what we found there for our own creative work. Sifting through documents about the Women’s Rest Tour Association at the Schlesinger Library in Cambridge led me to imagine what it would be like for four young women at the turn of the twentieth century to conceive of the idea of a women’s travel association. This opened interesting questions about how American society viewed the independent woman traveler and about the value of travel as an impetus for social change.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?

Almost any place that is new or foreign to me works as a powerful catalyst for my writing. I tend to travel to places I have read about, but even if I have no pre-conceived notion of a place before I go, if I am put in new circumstances, chances are I will come back with a story.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?

If I’m working on an essay or creative piece, I like to write early in the morning; that is when everything is fresh for me. But I also have a compulsive habit of journaling before bed. If I don’t write and process my day, I will not sleep. Years ago when visiting my grandmother I forgot my journal at home, and found that I had to write out my day with my finger tip across the pillow before sleep would come.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?

I’m envious of those with a talent for visual art—in my family all of those genes went to my little sister. But we recently discovered my mother also shows incredible skill as a painter—I’ll never forget the perfection of her first painting, at the age of sixty, of an apple. This gives me hope that new talent can be discovered at any age.

What are you working on currently?

I’m continually revising my book manuscript The Only House in the World, a memoir about my travels to literary sites around the world. I’m also working on several essays, including one that examines the state of contemporary women’s travel writing.

What are you reading right now?

I’m re-reading, if that counts, Celeste Albaret’s memoir Monsieur Proust. Albaret was Proust’s servant for the last years of his life, when he lived secluded in his cork-insulated bedroom, essentially sacrificing his final years for the sake of writing his masterpiece. It’s a remarkable chronicle of a writer’s process—if anyone is curious about a particular writer’s traditions and routines, Proust had quite a few, and to great effect!

Purchase our current issue (Volume 58, Issue 1) here to read Jodie Noel Vinson's essay "The Unprotected Females of the Women's Rest Tour Association”.

Jodie Noel Vinson received her MFA in non-fiction creative writing from Emerson College, where she developed a book about her literary travels. Her essays and reviews have been published or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, Pleiades, Nowhere Magazine, The Rumpus, Rain Taxi, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and Green Mountains Review, among other places. Her work has been anthologized in Around the World: An Anthology of Travel Writing and selected as “Notable Essay” in The Best American Essays (2015 and 2016). Jodie is Managing Editor of Longitude Books, an online travel bookstore. She lives with her husband in Seattle, where she is writing her first book, The Only House in the World.