Center for Poetry Fall 2014 Writing Series wraps up with nonfiction writer

On Wednesday, November 19, the Center for Poetry welcomed nonfiction writer Jim Minick as the last guest in the Fall Writing Series. Throughout the week, Minick visited two RCAH classes in addition to reading from his memoir, The Blueberry Years: A Memoir a Farm and Family and an essay in which he explores the question, "How can I be both a vegan and a deer hunter?" He concluded the reading with a poem titled "The Intimacy of Spoons," which you can view here.

Minick said he’s always loved blueberries. He and his wife, Sarah, planted their organic blueberry farm in the spring of 1995. He said they decided to farm organically because they couldn’t see a reason not to.

“There is so much poison already in our world that I didn’t want to add to it if I could. But, there are organic poisons as well. Some of the organic pesticides are just as bad. It’s not a clear black and white but at the same time it’s a much healthier food system,” Minick said.

While the book is mainly a memoir, it also contains other morsels about the history of the blueberry, poetry and recipes.

“Our story is the main story, but I also wanted this to be a book about all things blueberry,” Minick said. “So it’s a celebration of the fruit and the bush … It was just a fun way to explore the history of the plant.”

Minick said much of his inspiration comes from family stories and the environment.

“I’ve been writing most of my life and I figured there was a story to tell,” Minick said. “Most writing projects for me involve some kind of a question, so I wanted to try to understand why this young couple pursued this crazy dream, so that’s why I tried that in a book.”

In writing nonfiction, Minick said he was conscious of the fine line between being truthful and being hurtful.

“If you really want to write important words, you have to tackle the hard questions. That’s always something that you encounter in whatever genre, even in fiction. If you are writing something important, there has to be risk,” Minick said. “You hope you’re serving the story, you hope you’re serving beauty, that’s kind of the ultimate goal. In addition to that, you want to be honest, but you don’t want to be hurtful. That’s a hard, hard line so there’s no set answer. I think it’s case by case.”

In addition to writing, Minick teaches creative nonfiction at Converse College. Currently, he’s working toward his MFA in fiction at the University of North Carolina - Greensboro, and is also the fiction editor for the Greensboro Review.

“The farming keeps me grounded and gets me outside, the teaching keeps me connected to other people and is a way of giving, and then the writing keeps me grounded in the creative world,” Minick said.

Freshman Alina Steinberg is in one of the classes Minick visited, Katie Wittenauer’s RCAH 111, which focuses on food. She read the book and attended Minick’s reading on Wednesday night.

“In his book, (Minick) talks about how the work he did creating this farm affected so many people in so many different ways,” she said. “I think that’s kind of what we do here, we work to express ourselves in ways that can affect people.”

Stefani Chudnow is also in the class. She said she thought the book was interesting because it read more like a work of fiction rather than a nonfiction memoir. Chudnow said she also enjoyed the reading.

“I really liked how he came and talked to class and signed books afterward,” Chudnow said. “I haven’t really met a real an author before … so I thought that was really cool that I got to meet an author because I like reading, and now I have a signed book, so that’s really cool.”

Story by RCAH student Kelsey Block. Photos by Katie Wittenauer.