Following her remarkable reading on campus two days before Valentine’s Day, Wabash visiting writer EJ Levy—award-winning author of Love, In Theory—sat down with Richard Paige for a Wabash on My Mind podcast about love, her unusual path to becoming a writer, and the difficult decision she just made to better commit to that vocation.
“I just received tenure at lovely Colorado State and have just resigned my position,” Levy tells Paige. “I just did that yesterday—I will probably stay on half time.”
Levy explains: “I’ve been running away from the thing I’ve been given to do, and the more I run away, the worse I feel.
“I had thought [teaching] would… give me the fall back, make me an ‘official’ writer. I told myself it’s responsible, a way to support myself as a writer. But really what it has done is distract me. And I’ve done it for long enough.
“I love teaching, I love my students, I love my colleagues, but I don’t have the liberty to wake up every morning and go to the desk and work from 9 to 1, and I need to be doing that. I’m a writer first. And, as the poet Allen Shapiro said, you’re a writer only when you are writing.”
Levy’s re-doubled commitment to writing is a theme throughout the interview, especially as she discusses her grad school days at Ohio State, which she attended after more than a decade as an editor and activist.
“By the time I finally got to grad school, a visiting writer came who had anointed a lot of writers I really love, had been a judge for Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He basically said [after reading a story of mine] in the first month I was there, ‘This story is a failure, but you’re the real thing.’ And suddenly it was like I could fly.
“I went home from that conversation and I could write. All of the doubt, resistance, block—all the wondering, Is what I should be writing—disappeared. I wrote three books in three years and it was like learning to fly.
“And I realized, how insane that I had waited half my life to go to grad school because I was waiting for somebody else to give me permission to pursue my vocation.”
Levy adds that graduate school wasn’t the only thing she put off earlier in her life.
“I ‘ve taken a long time to settle with an agent, and so in the last couple of years I’ve found a wonderful agent who I adore. I’ve taken a long time to get married, and in the last couple of years I’ve gotten married, and had a baby.”
“So it’s almost Valentine’s Day and I’m all about commitment.”
Listen to the complete interview at Wabash On My Mind.