Interview with Elizabeth Bird, Runner Up in the Q2 2024 Creative Nonfiction Contest

Sunday, June 23, 2024


A retired Anthropology Professor, Elizabeth Bird has published seven books (most recently Surviving Biafra: A Nigerwife’s Story), and now writes creative non-fiction. Her work appears in Under the Sun (winner, Readers’ Choice Award 2022), Tangled Locks, Biostories, Streetlight, Dorothy Parker’s Ashes, HerStry, The Guardian, Mutha Magazine, 3Elements Review, Heimat Review, and elsewhere. Her essay “Interlude: 1941,” was named a Notable in Best American Essays 2023. Her website is:

 ----------Interview by Renee Roberson 

WOW: Hello Elizabeth, and welcome! I love how you wove in both Margaret Mead and Leonard Cohen into your essay, Making Peace with Cute." Did you work on the piece during your recovery from the bicycle accident or is it something you began after the healing process? 

Elizabeth: Thanks - I didn't necessarily plan to reference them both, but somehow they seemed to fit! I worked on the piece during my recovery, which turned out to be much longer than I had hoped. I had jotted down some notes about what it was like in the hospital, but I didn't really start writing until some time afterwards. It was in hindsight that I really felt the fracture was a kind of watershed moment in my aging process. 

WOW: You’ve published several pieces of creative nonfiction. What are some of the topics you find yourself circling back to the most? 

Elizabeth: I only started this kind of writing when I retired, so I suppose it's inevitable that a recurrent theme is the impact of aging, and reflections on the passing of time. Several of my essays address this theme directly or indirectly. As you get older, you tend to remember things that happened long ago, and so I've also written a few things about my childhood and youth. And with aging comes loss, and that is reflected in my work too. Although much of my writing is quite serious, I also like to write short, more humorous essays, like my pieces about brussels sprouts and my high school "scarf scandal!" 

WOW: I love this--writing humor is something I'd like to try more myself! Your essay, “Interlude: 1941” received a Readers’ Choice Award from Under the Sun and was named as Notable in Best American Essays. What first gave you the idea to turn a vacation journal from your mother into a longform piece? 

Elizabeth: My mother died quite young and very suddenly, and it has always made me sad that she missed so much, like meeting her grandchildren. I always wished I had asked her more about her youth, which she rarely talked about with my siblings and me. I had read the short, typed journal about her wartime vacation when she was 19, and I felt it gave me a little insight into who she was then. It's the only written thing I have from her younger days, and I'm not sure why it survived. The fact that she kept it made me feel it must have been important to her. It wasn't until years later that I decided to write about it. This piece was the first essay I published, so it was lovely to see it recognized. 

WOW: That's wonderful and a beautiful tribute to your mother. As a retired college professor, and after so many years of writing for academic journals and books, how has the transition been to the more creative side of publishing? 

Elizabeth: I believe academic writing is creative, at least in a field like mine. Much of my academic work tells stories, although in a rather different way. And over the years I have done other kinds of writing, like journalistic and opinion pieces. So changing gear wasn't completely new, though it did require some serious adjustment! As an anthropologist, I spent my career writing about other people, and it felt odd to start writing more about myself. That first published piece was still more about my mother than about me; the editors at Under the Sun encouraged me to add a little more personal reflection, which improved it. I also took a WOW essay writing class from Chelsey Clammer; her comments and encouragement were so important in strengthening my writing and giving me confidence to submit pieces. 

WOW: Chelsey is fabulous and I hear nothing but great things from her students! What advice would you give someone who wants to explore creative nonfiction but doesn’t know where to begin? 

Elizabeth: I think taking a class is a good start. It forces you to stop procrastinating and start producing. When I began, I kept thinking that I didn't have anything interesting to say, and a class helps you develop ideas and come to realize that anyone's life can be engaging if the story is told well. I would say choose something about your life that made an impact on you - but also remember that an essay is not just navel-gazing. There needs to be something about the story that engages the reader beyond one's personal experience, so that people can relate. Thanks for the opportunity to do this; it was thought provoking and fun.

WOW: We've enjoyed having you and learning more about your writing process! Thank you again for being here and we look forward to checking out more of your work.


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