Creative Writing

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Where I Write: With Cleo Harrington

Where I Write, a series of short interviews with current students, faculty, and alumni of the Creative Writing Program. It is a discussion of place in writing. What our writing spaces look like can be as varied as the physical spaces that exist (or don’t!) in New York and beyond, and as varied as the mental and psychic spaces we occupy while we write. Ruminate on the strings of words that stick with first year MFA in fiction Cleo Harrington.

Where do you write?

Stand, sit or other?

I sit at a table, almost exclusively. I’ll usually start writing by hand on a pad of paper, to let myself physically sink into what I’m working on.

What is your writing practice?

I journal almost daily, which consists of listing things I noticed throughout the day, ideas I find myself ruminating about, or strings of words I want to hold onto. Most of the stuff I’m working on now is born from these lists, so a lot of the initial “writing” work is pulling these little bits together in an organized way. Seeing what sticks on the page and what’s hanging off and I should save for later.

What are your favorite procrastinations?

There are a few artists and pages I’m consistently keeping track of via Instagram. Molly Steele is an analog photographer who mostly shoots around the West Coast and Southern United States. Her work is really dreamy and transports me immediately. Alice Hualice is a Russian multimedia artist whose work is often grotesque and surreal and dark and I love it all. I’ll also rewatch my favorite childhood movies — Labyrinth and The Yellow Submarine.

We live in interesting times, which book/author keeps you sane/grounded?

Since reading it for the first time last semester, I’ve turned to Bluets by Maggie Nelson repeatedly. Recently, I’ve been drawn to books about obsession. I just read Simple Passion by Annie Ernaux, and am in the middle of Outline of My Lover by Douglas A. Martin. Maybe it’s because romantic obsessions seem to exist somewhere outside space and time, on a plane all their own. It feels like taking a welcome step above the realm of chaos that is our daily existence.

What is your new skill learned during the shutdowns of the Pandemic

Not a skill exactly, but during the pandemic was the first time I was really able to be with my own desires. Learning to recognize what I truly want, outside of previously held expectations and thinking about other people’s feelings before my own, has allowed me to get closer to the life I’ve always imagined but never fully believed I could have. Last semester, in my workshop our professor asked us How much are you willing to suffer for the life that you want? It felt like the crux of what I’ve been thinking about, and it’s stayed with me since.

What is your dream writing space?

A little cottage library, looking out onto a garden. Somewhere green and overgrown.

Cleo Harrington is a first year fiction student. She lives in the East Village.

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