INTERVIEW WITH CAROLINE SUTPHIN
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: “Henry’s Porch” has strong rural imagery that appeals to both the visual and auditory senses. What influence have your Appalachian roots had in crafting these images?
Caroline Sutphin: I grew up on a farm in Appalachian Virginia, and the world of my childhood is often reconstructed in my writing. I feel lucky as a writer to have such rich memories to pull from. “Henry’s Porch” is part of a larger collection embodying several characters based on real members of my family. The imagery is a useful way for me to find my characters’ perspectives. The scene itself is familiar to me, but how does Henry see it? For a man leading a solitary life in an isolated region, what narratives does he construct internally? I think that’s how I find the unusual in my imagery and bring the world I know so well to life.
RR: This piece’s intimate tone transports readers straight to Henry’s porch. Do you have a favorite memory that helped you create this atmosphere?
CS: Henry the character is based on my great uncle, a man I didn’t know in life but came to know through his own writing in journals and original song lyrics. My family members that did know Henry were able to fill in a lot of the gaps about his world. Henry lived in the same community, a little place called Barren Springs, that many members of my extended family still live in today, where I spent a large portion of my childhood. The rolling hills, distant neighbors, and the people spending summer evenings on their concrete porches were all very familiar. When I pictured Henry at home, it was on his porch, guitar in hand.
RR: In your bio, you mentioned that you work with a nonprofit. Can you tell us more about the organization and the ways it interacts with your writing?
CS: I’ve been working as an ESL teacher with a non-profit shelter for migrant children. While academia has its appeals, I learned in my MFA program that I didn’t think working in a university would be the best fit for me. For myself as a writer and a person, I wanted to be more in the world and find a career that allowed me to feel of service to a population at need. It’s a challenge to find the balance with my career and writing life, but I think I’m very lucky to feel happy and motivated in both spheres. I’m looking for a career change soon as my husband and I are moving to Boston this summer, but I hope to find work in a similar environment!
RR: We love that you have a YouTube channel where you discuss all kinds of different books. What genres or works have had the biggest impact on you as a writer?
CS: I’ve always been a person who reads broadly and finds value in a variety of genres, which I think the books featured on my YouTube channel demonstrate. Maurice Manning is one poet that has had a big impact. When I think back on just the past year on my channel, Middlemarch by George Eliot stands out as a book that really inspired and excited me as a writer.
RR: If you have one, what is your favorite song by Hank Williams?
CS: I probably don’t have the deep knowledge of Hank that my uncle Henry had, but “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” comes to mind as one I heard a lot in my childhood!
Read “Henry’s Porch” by Caroline Sutphin.