Jill McCorkle arrived on the literary scene in 1984, when Algonquin simultaneously published her novels The Cheer Leader and July 7th. She was twenty-six-years-old. Since then, McCorkle has produced four novels and four story collections, most recently the 2013 novel Life After Life. She is a graduate of the Hollins College creative writing program and has taught at UNC-Chapel Hill, Tufts, Brandeis, and Harvard. She is now on the faculty at the Bennington College Writing Seminars. She has been the recipient of the New England Book Award, the John Dos Passos Prize for Excellence in Literature, and the North Carolina Prize for Literature. This fall, she was awarded the Thomas Wolfe Prize from the University of North Carolina.
When we sat down with McCorkle in July 2016, in Nashville, she was traveling from Raleigh, North Carolina to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, where she is a member of the faculty. The day before, she had attended a rally for local artists in protest of H.B. 2, the state law restricting public bathroom use based on sexual identity. Then it was off to Sewanee, where the Conference began just a few hours later. We picked up with her the following morning,but if McCorkle felt strained by the demands of her schedule, she didn’t show it. Far from seeking the solitude that many writers treasure, McCorkle possesses a fierce moral sensibility that drives her out of the study and into the world. (In fact, she’d also helped to organize the rally she attended.) In conversation, she is warm, witty, and as unreserved as the vibrant characters that populate her stories.
—Alec Hill & Ansley McDurmon
SR: When would you say you found your voice as a writer?
McCorkle: In college, at UNC, when I took a creative writing class with Max Steele. He was wonderful. I will never forget how, on our first day, he had us all go up to the board and draw a horse. One kid went up and sketched the animal from behind, and Max said, “Well, we know who he is.” My horse had enormous ears—really it looked more like a mule—but no mouth. And so Max says, “Oh, she’s a listener”—which was true, it was how I’d operated since I was a child—“We’re going to have to make her talk!” Which was exactly what he did.