Interview with Barbara Y. Phillips: Q2 2024 Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up

Sunday, June 16, 2024
Barbara’s Bio:
Barbara Y. Phillips, a social justice feminist and emerging creative nonfiction writer, appears in Brevity Blog, Herstry, New York Times, Southern Cultures, The Citron Review, 2023 Anthology Aunt Chloe: A Journal of Artful Candor, Black Memoirs Matter Anthology of Memoir Magazine (forthcoming) and others. Her essays on democracy include Imagine and Create the Third Reconstruction in The Struggle in the South Continues (ed. Kent Spriggs, University Press of Florida forthcoming); Joaquin Avila: Voting Rights Gladiator, 18 Seattle Journal for Social Justice 1, 21 (Summer 2019); How I Became a Civil Rights Lawyer in Voices of Civil Rights Lawyers: Reflections from the Deep South, 1964-1980 (ed. Kent Spriggs, University Press of Florida 2017); and others. She was honored by the Mississippi Center for Justice in 2022 as a Champion of Justice and lives in Oxford, MS. 

If you haven't done so already, check out Barbara's award-winning essay "Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Q2 2024 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing your essay and how did it and your writing processes evolve as you wrote? 

Barbara: I feel called to explore and make sense of my life through writing memoir. Fortunately, I have kept journals since I was fourteen years old. In one of those journals, I captured my experience recounted in the essay on the day of its occurrence. Reflecting upon it now, years later, my independent recollection was richly enhanced by my efforts at the time to capture the experience in the journal. My memory of the experience was sparked by a conversation with friends about the commodification of travel as yet another form of consumerism. 

WOW: I love that you have not only been keeping journals since you were 14 years old, but that you also re-read and reflect on them and use them to create new work. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay? 

Barbara: Creating the essay gave me the adventure of marrying my memory with both craft and reflection. 

WOW: Reflective writing can be so empowering. In what ways do you see your social justice and feminist advocacy intersecting with your creative writing? 

Barbara: Because my creative writing is usually in the genre of memoir, the voice always carries the notes of my life as experienced by a Black woman in the United States – so the bass guitar is always playing social justice and feminism. 

WOW: Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you? 

Barbara: bell hooks and Toni Morrison inspire me to trust myself and value my life. Nancy Aronie’s writing inspires by making clear that the reward for vulnerability is powerful connection with other human beings and her workshop made writing safe for me. Nadine Kenney Johnstone has an unshakeable belief in the value of women’s literary voices. Joanna Acevedo, a brilliant poet and CNF writer, is now my coach and taking me on a deeper exploration of craft accompanied by sister-Critique Group members Ruth O’Dell, Bliss Goldstein, Pamela Jackson, and Susan Wadds – and they inspire me every week to do the work, to be brave, to grow, to show up on the page. 

WOW: How wonderful to have found an amazing and supporting critique group! Thank you for sharing about the many people who have inspired you. If you could tell your younger self anything about writing, what would it be? 

Barbara: I began creative nonfiction writing in my late 60s. From my current perch of 75 years old, I would simply reassure her that publication is not the biggest reward. I find that writing leads me to deeper understanding of myself and my life – and that’s the precious reward. 

WOW: That’s important advice. That end goal of publishing often mutes the many benefits of the writing process. Thank you for sharing it with us. Anything else you’d like to add? 

Barbara: It is one of the great fortunes of my life to be in this community of women writers. 

WOW: And we are so fortunate to have you in the WOW! community! Thank you for sharing your writing with us and for your thoughtful responses. Happy writing! 

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, founder and editor-in-chief of Sport Stories Press, which creates sports stories by, for, and about sportswomen and amateur athletes. Engage on Twitter or Instagram @GreenMachine459.


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