I’ve been fortunate in my writing career for a number of reasons, but the most important of all is the extraordinary people I’ve met—people who knock me out with their talent, their grit, and their character. Just one look at Jen Knox will tell you that she has great character. Her eyes tell the truth of things, as does her heart and the words she stitches together so beautifully. When I first met Jen and discovered that she’d written a memoir titled Musical Chairs, I went out right away and bought it. When I read it, I was stunned. Jen has accomplished what many a memoirist does not: she told her story in a clear, unsentimental, and brutally honest voice. If you’ve not read Jen’s memoir, then please add it to your “must read” list immediately. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I’m delighted to introduce you to Jen here on BRAVA! Thank you, Jen, for accepting my invitation to tell your story.
Why I Write …
“I like to think that I was always a writer, but it wasn’t always obvious. I didn’t spend my childhood creating plotlines with crayons or sketching poems into my coloring books like many authors I know and admire. Nor did I keep journals or show any discernable talent for the craft. No, my journey to the writing life was unpredictable and often quite awkward.
I remember returning to school, a small community college as an adult student, at age nineteen. It was a tough transition, and a tough awakening to see how dimly literate I was on paper. I was a high school drop-out and it showed when I took placement tests. Much to my dismay, I was placed into a remedial English course, and slowly, painstakingly, I learned many of the basics I had missed. As my English improved, I began to realize the value of the written word. What’s more, I was reintroduced to a childhood hobby: reading. It was in college that I learned how to read, really read and was introduced to the vast, transcendent world of good literature—a world I had only glimpsed in younger years.
Looking back now, I think there might have been some tells, some clues that I would one day write. As a child, I was quiet, watchful, and wholly imaginative. I had a natural curiosity about others’ lives. The less I understood a person I met, the more I needed to understand him or her. Further, I liked taking long walks, venturing farther from home each time, just to see what else was out there. This wanderlust would lead me into a mess of trouble in my teenage years, true, but I think that the compulsion to explore is common among writers and other artists—even those who are not yet channeling their creativity in positive ways.
As I pushed slowly through college, working hard to “catch up to the smart kids,” I realized how quickly my life was changing and how important writing was to those changes. I wrote short stories and essays daily, my first non-assigned work being a cautionary tale about giant frogs (by far my worst and yet my favorite work to-date). And as I accumulated a body of work, I began to share my creations with others and get feedback. This was tough at first, and like many beginning writers, I was defensive when I heard criticism. But eventually, after a few writing-specific courses, I got used to it and even learned how to listen. In other words, I learned how to hone my craft.
There are many storytellers in the world, people who can add entertainment, interest and insight to the most everyday or most extreme of experiences; people who can invent plots that make people think about the world in a slightly different way—this is no small gift. But, after embarking upon my own journey toward the writing life, I also realize that writing is not done in a vacuum. It’s too difficult, too multifaceted, to all-inclusive to execute in solitude. Writing is a never ending learning process, and in order for a storyteller to translate her gift onto the page, she must first learn to listen, and to live. She must listen to the writers she admires, listen to the readers who tell her they don’t understand, listen to the stories that are begging to find their way onto the page. For me, this was my personal journey.
In October of 2009, I published Musical Chairs, a memoir about a few tumultuous years after I ran away from home at age fifteen. This book was cathartic and, some would argue, therapeutic, but what’s more, this book was my genuine voice on the page. I’m honored to have the opportunity to share my story, and I don’t plan to stop writing any time soon. I see writing as a gift, and as I work now, both as a freelance writer and creative writing professor, I see the value of sharing my journey because others out there just might be able to relate. Often, those of us who have said, “I’m just not a writer” or “I’m no good with words” are wrong, and when we figure it out, if we do, the sky is hardly the limit.”
Jen Knox earned her MFA from Bennington’s Writing Seminars and works as a fiction editor at Our Stories Literary Journal and a Creative Writing Professor at San Antonio Community College. Her shorter writing has been published in Flashquake, The Houston Literary Journal, Midwest Literary Magazine, Short Story America, Slow Trains, SLAB, Superstition Review, and Quiz & Quill. And forthcoming work will appear in Eclectic Flash, Foundling Review and Metazen. Jen grew up in Ohio and lives in Texas, where she is working on a short story collection entitled To Begin Again and a novel entitled Absurd Hunger.