Interview with Beth Kanter: Q3 2023 Creative Nonfiction Contest First Place Winner

Wednesday, August 16, 2023
Beth Kanter’s fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in dozens of publications. She won a UCLA James Kirkwood Literary Prize for her novel-in-progress, Paved With Gold, and the short story on which it’s based won first prize in the 2020 Lilith magazine fiction contest. She is the author of several books about Washington, DC, including No AccessDC and Great Food Finds DC. When not writing, Beth leads creative nonfiction workshops and works with other writers as a coach and mentor. You can read more of her work or reach out to her at

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Q3 2023 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! Your entry, “The First Ten Days After A Shooting At Your Daughter’s School: Or, what to expect when you are expecting the inevitable,” is a compelling look at what it’s really like living through what we see in the news. What inspired you to write this piece?

Beth: Thank you. I am honored that my essay was chosen and that it stands in the company of so many wonderful pieces. I also feel grateful for the chance to have more people interact with this piece, one that is so close to the bone for me.

The inspiration for the story is a terrible one, the shooting at my daughter’s high school last year. In the aftermath of the shooting, the staff and faculty at the school did, and continue to do, a phenomenal job of providing resources and support to the students and their families– even as they were navigating their own trauma. One evening a person who specializes in helping school communities through shootings led a very helpful Zoom session for parents. While incredibly grateful for the session and his help, I kept tripping on the absurdity that we live during a time where this job and expertise is not only needed but is in demand. The “what to expect when you are expecting the inevitable” line/title came to me then – a darkly realistic and angry take on the reality of parenting right now. I then started to compose the piece in my head during the long, sleepless nights that followed the shooting as I would conduct a sort of inventory of what had happened that day and how everything felt absurd against this all-too-real real backdrop.

WOW: The way you structured the piece helped me as a reader to face the distressing subject matter. Did it also help you write about it?

Beth: It did. The structure of the piece mimicked and mirrored the way that I was processing the shooting, which in many ways I am told is how the brain sometimes “protects” us when we are faced with trauma I experienced, and still recall the time, as fragmented. My daughter called while I was out with a friend. My friend shepherded me home but I still don’t remember large swaths of the day. I remember getting the call, standing by an elevator, standing on the street, being at the corner of my street in her car, and then entering my house but not the time in between. That pattern of recollection continued and it was almost as if I would shift into a second-person outlook while dealing with a horrific first-person reality.

WOW: Do you have any other thoughts or advice for writing about difficult things?

Beth: My advice is to be gentle with yourself -- take breaks, hydrate, talk to friends. Do it on your own timetable. I also often remind myself that the page is strong enough to hold whatever we choose to bring to it. It really does help to get it out even if you don’t show it to a soul, although there is a lightness that comes from sharing difficult prose, too.

WOW: What writing projects are you working on right now? What’s next for you?

Beth: I am continuing to work on my novel-in-progress, Paved with Gold. I have been lucky enough to have a few excerpts published and as I finish it I am also working toward putting a few more stand-alone out in the world. When not writing, I lead creative nonfiction writing workshops as well as work with individual writers. This fall I will be starting a new session of my Boot Camp forWriters, which I have taught for more than a decade at The Writer’s Center in DC, although the class now is virtual. (

Be it in a workshop or one-on-one, I am always honored and humbled to be invited on the writing journeys of others and it reminds of the importance, really necessity, of a writing community.

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Beth. Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice?

Beth: Thank you for the opportunity. I so appreciate it.

I think time is the secret ingredient to most good writing. It’s like salt and baking. You rarely taste it but the recipe rarely turns out good without it. That, and walking. Walking is writing.



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