Rappahannock Review Nonfiction Editors: Our nonfiction team is intrigued and delighted by your unconventional topic. What inspired you to devote a story to slugs?

Richard Kempa: The vision of a small boy, turning my inner vision outwards, guiding my eyes away from the clouds and downwards, underfoot, where it’s all happening! As Naomi Nye has said, “Everything is famous if you notice it.”


RR: As the title suggests, this piece is very contemplative. Was writing this story a meditative experience for you?

RK: Indeed it was. All writing is an invitation to meditation, wouldn’t you say?—to reflect, consider, connect with whatever subject is before us. I am probably more prone to this than average. Inside my big head is a big brain that loves to turn things over and inside-out, that wants to look at the backside of things and the underside. But the main thing is to keep it grounded in the narrative, where we live and love. I try to measure out my meditations with coffee spoons: a sentence or a phrase here and there, an occasional rare paragraph or two.


RR: This piece is strongly connected to nature and the physical world. What specifically in nature do you find inspiring as a writer?

RK: Every little thing in this immense and immensely beautiful world is inspiring, if only I can remember Thoreau’s injunction to be “looking always at what is to be seen.” Just to be out walking in the world at large, whether in a National Park or in the neighborhood, to be inhabiting the weather instead of reading about it on some app, to be flexing my lungs instead of holding my breath while I stare into a screen… “Inspiring” = “breathing in.”


RR: Do you typically gravitate towards writing short nonfiction? If so, what draws to this form?

RK: Some of my essays end up being great big beautiful unpublishable things; I might fall into a leisurely pace that slows the flow, or the subject might require such expansiveness. How else, for instance, to account for a thirty-day river trip? But as one who was weaned on poetry, I prize the virtues of brevity and precision and leaving things unsaid—and I aim to apply them to my prose. One can cover a tremendous amount of ground in a thousand words!


RR: Throughout your career as a college professor, you surely came across all types of writing. Can you give any tips for young writers?

RK: To carry the little notebook with you at all times, to have ink stains in your pockets—some might say you are ruining your clothes, I say you are adding value to them. To not be self-conscious about pulling that thing out at any time or place, in any company, and catching those impressions and expressions and turns of thought that flit on through—fresh, quirky, unedited, here one second, gone the next. Or perhaps your preference might be to type these fleeting phantoms into your pocket computer. Whatever works; catch them while you can! I have a big trunk full of 3×5 notebooks filled with tiny writing spanning decades of living—an incredibly rich reservoir of raw material, all the inspiration I will ever need.


Richard Kempa’s work in Issue 6.2: 

Meditations on a Slug