An introduction to writer Yon Walls, who recently published a novel called Seeing Collette. Walls is a poet, diarist, and novelist originally from Kentucky. She’s lived in California since 1972. Walls holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College where she received the Zora Neale Hurston Writing Award twice. From 2000-2008, she taught college-level English and literature in the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley areas. In 2002 and 2007, she was a teacher and writer-in-residence in Hiroshima and Kofu, Japan. Since that time, she completed Island of Swallows, a collection of poems about Japan. Walls is currently a contributing editor for Tertuliamagazine.com.
Quick Facts on Yon Walls
- Walls’s novel Seeing Collette
- Home: Sacramento, California
- Comfort food: Moist cake with lots of real buttercream icing.
- Top reads: Well, classics—Strait is the Gate by Andre Gide, Quicksand by Nella Larsen, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.Not so recent, Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto; and very recently, Orhan Pamuk’s, The Museum of Innocence. And the just recently list goes on—I’m always discovering new regional writers. One surely to remember is Sholeh Wolpé, a poet and translator.
- Current reads: The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson, and the wonderful Harry Belafonte memoir entitled My Song. Some amazing essays by Toni Morrison, some lovely short, short stories, edited by Irving and Ilana Wiener Howe. I will soon reread some poems by Sonia Sanchez, and during the summer I discovered Tablet & Pen, an important and amazing anthology of work by Middle Eastern writers edited by Reza Aslan. Oh, and a wonderful collection of poems, Life on Mars by Tracy K Smith.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve just finished my first novel. Nearly two years of work. Lots of research. I think it’s solid. A well-respected editor with Simon & Schuster really likes the book, but what publishing home will finally sign the work, I’m unsure. It will be published and of course it’ll probably morph in the future. It’s the hardest writing work perhaps I’ve ever done, but proving to be the most satisfactory. Also, I’m generally having to get smarter about the business end of things—the bones of getting published and by comparison, the writing seems tame. I’m also re-editing a collection of poems written a few years back about Japan (it’s just weeping to be published), and keeping my personal journal updated. I have years and years of journals. Just mostly trying to keep interested in work already written that needs to be reviewed and met all over again.
I have recently been testing the water as a self-promoter of my work through the ebook medium. It’s exciting and I’m also learning much about the new frontier of publishing for committed writers who don’t always fit the traditional publishing mode, and who are really motivated to get their work out to readers. The Sultan’s Cook is one such little book. It’s just three stories in the sudden fiction genre that I think will resonate with some fiction readers, especially readers who also like traveling to physical places in books, or who like traveling in general. The stories are set in Turkey and are about the nature of desire as dictated by historical forces, about dreams and the human need for beauty. If readers like them enough, I’ll write more of them.
What do you hope readers will take away from your work?
That the planet and humans are complex, and although our brains are magnificent organs for calculating and measuring things that need to be measured, much of our relationship to the environment is through feeling—the emotional body sensor that can give us great meaning. Poems and stories are sensory and can give us meaning. I think my work is often ethereal, but it’s concrete, too. I would love to have my poems translated from English into another language someday. Also, many of my poems are best spoken aloud. A prism created through another language can be something very different. Recently, I was thrilled by and for a writer I respect much who has been published in Turkish—a lovely new perspective.
Who do you picture as the ideal reader of your work?
A generous one, and a reader who wants to discover something—something far away or very close or something that makes them ask questions. A reader who reads as if their life depended on it.
“A reader who reads as if
their life depended on it.”
Where and when do you prefer to write?
I write at home, usually in the little hours of the mornings, early, after or before I’ve been struck by something—an atmosphere or incident that speaks to me. And, sometimes lately, I write because there’s something to be finished, something that needs to be carved out and completed.
Where would you most want to live and write?
Today I’d like to be writing in Istanbul again, just being in that little coffee shop I remember with the wide-mouth white cups. And yesterday it was London; weeks before, I had the thought I’d want to return to Kyoto on a summer night and write. Maybe one day I’d like to live for a few months in a small ancient African village, a peaceful one and beautiful, and write. But, today I’m here and it’s the best.
What do you listen to when you work?
Nothing. Just silence. Silence is beautiful.
When you’re having trouble getting started on a poem, where do you look for inspiration?
Poems are usually always difficult, not difficult like writing a novel, just different. For example, I like playing with punctuation. It sometimes gets me going until the poem invites me to be inspired by something. Or maybe it’s just a single vivid word. And no matter how small or long the poem, it has to carry a truth of meaning. I’m inspired by this fact. Sometimes it’s just so hard to believe in what you’re creating because of the artist’s need and fascination with the new. I always want to create something I haven’t encountered before.
“I always want to create something
I haven’t encountered before.”
How do you balance content with form?
For me, first content consumes all. Once I’ve got the pulp of the content of a poem or fiction work, I consider form. Content without form—some understanding of an architecture—is a loss for the writer.
Is there a quote about writing that motivates or inspires you?
For the last year or so it’s been: What If? It’s actually two words of a title of a book about the writing craft.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
“Find your voice and learn to love it,
and learn to wait.”
Find your voice and learn to love it, and learn to wait. I’d also say, perhaps there are more good writers than ever before, and more than ever before places to find a home for your work. And finally, the challenge and elusiveness of it all never ends. It’s just who you are—what it becomes.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a writer?
Well, the first advice wasn’t advice but something my grandfather did. He would recite Poe’s “Annabel Lee” to my mother as a child. She told me the story and it rubbed off—my love of drama in writing—my expectation of it. In the adult world of writing, I was advised to keep doing it and give more. The work is the writing. And, I remember when my third grade elementary school teacher introduced me to Emily Dickinson and I walked a very long way home that day reciting a poem she wrote because it was mysterious. I think writers have to accept that part of what they do comes from that mysterious place or simply is mysterious. Maybe in this day and time, nothing is mysterious, but it has to be. Nature is mysterious, even in light of the fact that now Einstein’s theory of relativity is being challenged by quantum physics.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
Really getting to the core of what you’ve trying to say and to say it well, even when no one’s reading it, when you’re obscure.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?
Since returning from Japan almost a decade ago, I’ve studied chanoyu, the art of the Japanese tea ceremony (that simply translates, hot water for tea), and I practice it. I love good American and International film, watching the garden grow, and spending quality time with the people I love and the other writer I live with.
About Yon Walls
Yon Walls is a poet, diarist, and recent novelist native of Kentucky. She’s lived in California since 1972. She’s the author of the novel Seeing Collette and an e-book, The Sultan’s Cook. Her poems have appeared in Syllogism, Parkway Journal of Hiroshima, Japan, Niedergasse and numerous other journals. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. While at Mills she received the Zora Neale Hurston Writing Award twice, and in 2002 adapted Two Ways To Count to Ten and The Magic Bones for children. In 2004, she was selected as a writing participant of the Voices of Our Nation Foundation at the Universityof San Francisco.
From 2000-2008, she taught College English and Literature in the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley areas. In 2002 and 2007, she was a teacher and writer-in-residence in Hiroshima, and Kofu, Japan. In 2009, she completed Island of Swallows, a collection of poems about Japan. Walls is currently a contributing editor for Tertuliamagazine.com and working to publish her first novel.
[Toffoli, Marissa B. “Interview With Writer Yon Walls.” Words With Writers (December 30, 2011), https://wordswithwriters.com/2011/12/30/yon-walls/.%5D