What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I was twelve years old when my family, sponsored by a Lutheran church, arrived in Indianapolis in 1950 after five years in a DP (displaced persons) camp in Germany. I studied at Indiana University for my first two degrees and moved to Wisconsin at age 25 to complete my PhD and have lived here since.
Favorite places or features of the region?
The autumn woods in Brown County, near Indiana University. Northern Wisconsin with its lakes and pines, which resemble parts of Latvia, my homeland.
What is your favorite season of the year?
I have two: spring because of spring flowers, especially small wild ephemerals, and because the resurrection of nature so closely resembles coming out of depression; autumn because of its poignancy and light.
Has the Midwest been an influence or inspiration for your work, and if so, how?
Beyond writing outdoors in September, I have hardly ever used nature in my work. The customs and features of Madison appear in my novel, In Love with Jerzy Kosinski. And because I survived the 1950s in Indiana, they are significant in much of my prose, especially in my most recent book, Lost Midsummers: a Novel of Exile and Friendship.
Pencil, pen, typewriter, computer?
Pen for jotting down ideas that occur to me while I am reading in bed or waking from a dream. Computer for everything else. It very much loosened up my writing as I went from typewriter , carbons, multiple sheets of paper and White Out to the little mouse that so obligingly eats errors.
What’s the best job you’ve ever had?
Between the ages of twelve and fourteen, almost every Sunday afternoon, I was paid fifty cents to take an old Latvian lady to the movies so her son and his wife, newlyweds, could have a bit of privacy. This required gathering as much information as I could about what was playing from acquaintances and newspapers, deciding what to see, escorting her to the bus and to the theater, preparing her for what we were about to see, holding her hand while watching, and the delightful discussion afterwards.
What’s the worst job you ever had?
Teaching Freshman English during the 1962-1963 academic year at UW-Milwaukee. I was paid $2,000 less, a significant sum in those days, than my male colleagues “because they had families to support,” even though most were single. Without a feminist consciousness to explain this, I assumed I was judged to be unqualified professionally and disliked personally. Junior faculty were segregated to a top floor, and senior faculty did not talk to us during the days of teaching nor indeed at a “Welcome” reception for new faculty. The only bright spot of that year was that a former student of my office mate brought delicious Serbian food and lots of chilled wine late on Friday afternoons. Several of our pals crowded into our small space too and created a convivial yet intimate atmosphere. If we encountered senior faculty on our way out of the building, they seemed pleasant enough.
What do you do in your free time?
Read, see my friends, listen to music, go to concerts, and garden. Unable to garden outside because of botched hip replacement surgeries (I am a walking demonstration of corporate greed and medical incompetence), I have created what amounts to flower beds at every window indoors. Something lovely is almost always in bloom (Christmas cactuses, clivias, orchids) and the fragrance of jasmines and hyacinths and narcissus I have forced into bloom floats through the house. I used to know what each plant needs outside, but I enjoy learning about gardening in a unique and different environment.
Favorite food or beverage?
Dense whole grain bread, butter, fish, chocolate, other desserts that are not too sweet, and white wine.
Favorite music or musician?
I love Brahms for passion, Mozart for serenity, and almost all choral music, especially Latvian folksongs and the deeply moving compositions by Estonian Arvo Part and Latvian Peteris Vasks.
Do you have a pet?
No. I would love to have a dog but traveling and limited walking ability argue against it.
What’s on your radar now? Current projects?
My new novel, Lost Midsummers was published in September (2018). I am working on Coming Home, a memoir about my father, spirituality, aging, going from exile to Latvia, and various other returns.