Monday, July 26, 2010

Grub Tales: Lisa Borders

Lisa Borders’ first novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land, was chosen by Pat Conroy as the winner of River City Publishing’s Fred Bonnie Award for Best First Novel and was published in 2002. Cloud Cuckoo Land also received fiction honors in the 2003 Massachusetts Book Awards. Her second novel, The Fifty-First State, is represented by Svetlana Katz at Janklow & Nesbit. Lisa has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and her short stories have appeared in Kalliope, Washington Square, Black Warrior Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Newport Review and other journals. Her essay "Enchanted Night" was published in Don't You Forget About Me: Contemporary Writers on the Films of John Hughes (Simon & Schuster, 2007). She has received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Somerville Arts Council and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Hedgebrook and the Blue Mountain Center. This fall she will be a fellow at the Millay Colony. More information on Lisa and her work is available at

RUN FOR GRUB: What has Grub Street meant to you?
Lisa Borders: When I say that Grub Street is my home, I don’t mean it as a metaphor. My Oxford American Dictionary gives one of the meanings for “home” as “a place where something flourishes.” I can’t think of a better way to describe my relationship to Grub Street, and I can’t think of any other place that fits, for me, that particular definition of “home.”

RUN FOR GRUB: What's your most magical Grub Street memory?

Lisa Borders: The one that stands out in my mind is from a Novel in Progress class I taught a few years ago. On one of the last nights we were meeting, four people read revisions of scenes we’d already workshopped. From one student to the next, the revised versions were quantum leaps better than the previous versions. It truly felt magical when the fourth student began reading, and his scene was as amazingly transformed as the others. “I have chills!” someone called out when that last student had finished reading. “My work here is done – you’re all amazing!” I said. The entire class was so jazzed we ended up talking for an hour past the time the class ended. It’s such a gift for a teacher to see incredible progress like that within the time frame of a ten-week course. In keeping with the magic of that class, I happen to know that several of those writers are still meeting as a group.

RUN FOR GRUB: Grub Street almost closed in 2001, but--thank goodness--it reinvented itself as a nonprofit instead. What would you have lost if Grub had withered away eight years ago?
Lisa Borders: Before I made the decision to chuck more sensible professions and become a fiction writer, I’d always felt like I didn’t quite fit anywhere. I went to my graduate creative writing program hoping I’d find that home of other writers, that place where people got me – “a place where something flourishes” – but didn’t find it there, either. I’d almost given up on ever finding that elusive home when I stumbled upon Grub Street. This amazing institution has nurtured me both as a writer and as a teacher of writing. Many of my closest friends are people I met through Grub. Almost everything good that has happened to me in the past eight years is linked, directly or indirectly, to Grub Street. The thought of a life without Grub sounds postapocalyptic to me – bleak and lonely.

RUN FOR GRUB: Can you believe we’ve known each other almost nine years?
Lisa Borders: Actually, I feel like I’ve known you longer! You’re in that category in my mind with the friends who go way, way back.

RUN FOR GRUB: I was in one of your first classes, which means you were the first face of Grub for me. This isn’t so much a question, but a thank you for seeing a spark of something in me, nurturing it without extinguishing it, and being loyal for all these many years.
Lisa Borders: I’ve remained loyal because I can’t wait for your amazing novel, Misfit Kings, to be a runaway bestseller – after which I plan to walk around boasting that you were once my student! All kidding aside, it’s been amazing to see both your writing and our friendship develop over the past decade. The appreciation for the support and loyalty goes both ways.

RUN FOR GRUB: RUNaway bestseller! Ha! Kidding aside, right back at ya. And to any novelists in Grubdom, know this: working on a novel on your own is like running on a treadmill; working on your book while enrolled in one of Lisa’s novel-in-progress classes is like running on a pristine beach with your favorite tunes and just the right amount of seabreeze to refresh you.

Catherine Elcik is running her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, an independent writing center in Boston, MA.

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