INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Megan Stielstra

Interview by Amy Eaton

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Author Megan Stielstra laughing

Megan Stielstra (Photo Credit: Jess Tschirki)

Before interviewing Megan Stielstra, I emailed her some preliminary topics and questions to think about before we spoke. The following conversation seemed to seamlessly cover them rather than a typical Q&A, but here for reference’s sake, are my points of discussion:

  1. When Stielstra writes about the Midwest and specifically Chicago, it is not flyover country; it is a place with all the cultural significance of any world class city. Landmarks (Marshall Fields, The Jewel, Humboldt Park, Lincoln Park Zoo) and local haunts (RIP Leopard Lounge and Dannys) are referred to as casually as Montmartre, the London Tower, or Studio 54.
  2. I’ve seen Megan perform, and if you ever get the chance, you should too. Chicago is the birthplace of Live Lit, (an unwieldy brew of crafted literature, solo performance, personal essay, storytelling, and sometimes scientific, political or journalistic content sprinkled in for good measure). As a fellow writer-performer, I asked if it was different writing for the page vs. the stage.
  3. Both books we discuss have been re-released by Northwestern University Press in August of 2021. Everyone Remain Calm, released originally in 2011 by Joyland/ECW Press, is a collection of stories. Once I was Cool, first released in 2014 by Curbside Splendor Publishing, is a collection of personal essays. Were there lines for her between memoir, personal essays, stories, I wanted to know? Fiction and autofiction?
  4. If I noted all the laughing that happened in this interview, I’d never have finished it. Stielstra is so fully present, so heart-full and just so, so damn funny.

This has been edited for time and clarity, but we’ll begin with our conversation on Zoom on a hot August morning. Also, Megan and Amy both understand that getting a ticket for parking on the wrong side of the street during street cleaning is one of the most dreaded tickets you can get in Chicago.

Amy Eaton: Ooh! I got the street cleaner coming down my street! My window’s open. Let me know if it’s too loud……hey! Why’s he on the side my car’s parked on? That side’s not today….

Megan Stielstra: Do you need to check?

AE: Nooooo, I’m on the corner, he’s turning around. Ok. It seems fine. Except now he has to have a conversation right under my window. As long as he doesn’t take my birdfeeders! I have an obsession with my birds. (Looks out window.)

 I had a big fight with the Streets and San guy, like three years ago. He started to take my feeders down! I keep worrying the same Streets and San guy is going to come back and take my bird feeders. 

MS: Have you written about the birds?

AE:  I have. I did a piece for MissSpoken about two months ago. I thought I was writing about something else, but it wound up being about the mourning doves that hang out on my roof and on the wires. I’ve become that lady that names all the birds.

MS: You should write that sentence down, “I’ve become the lady that names all the birds.”

AE: My kid is like What is wrong with you? That bird is not named Eloise!

MS:  It is named Eloise! You absolutely know. My favorite essay is “Living Like Weasels,” by Annie Dillard. All that happens is Annie and a weasel look at each other for like thirty seconds but by the end you’re like, holy shit, what am I doing with my goddamn life? I’m not a particularly religious person, but every time I read it, it’s like I’ve been to church. It makes me think about the natural environment in an entirely different way.

The first six months of the pandemic, my kid and I were at my mom’s house in rural Michigan. There we are in the middle of the woods after twenty-five years in the city. I’m used to a different kind of white noise, like you this morning with Streets and Sanitation.

I was living across the street from the Aragon Ballroom when I wrote Everyone Remain Calm and Once I Was Cool, so there was a constant soundtrack; The Pixies, Megadeath, Rob Zombie. And suddenly we’re at my mom’s place and everything was so quiet and dark. It does not get dark in the city. There’s always something lit up

AE:  Oh yeah. Especially that part of town.

MS: There was all the fear associated with the pandemic, plus my kid was in remote school and all of my work went remote and my husband had just left me so there were a thousand things colliding in my heart simultaneously, and to just… sit in the woods? In the quiet? With the birds? I feel your birds, Amy. I feel them in my bones.

AE:  It’s very weird, ‘cause they’ve been here for a while. And at first, I thought, oh, nice! But it’s transformed into this bigger thing. Now I need these birds. The essay ends with me finding an injured sparrow

MS: Oh, God.

AE:  and not knowing what to do with it.

MS:   Did you figure it out?

AE: I did. Eventually.

MS:   A couple of lifetimes ago I worked in a faculty development center at Columbia College and a science professor came to one of my workshops with a bird. She’d found it on the street on the way to the workshop—it must have been injured or something—and she dumped out her lunch and put the bird into her lunch bag. She wanted to take it back to her office and help it but she didn’t want to miss the workshop. So, she brought it. She put the bag under her chair and for the entire two hours there was a bird in a bag on the floor rattling around, trying to get out of the bag, like, fuck this noise. She was really apologetic about it. She didn’t know what to do.

I identified with her so fiercely because we want to help, but we also have to do our work in the world. What was she supposed to do? Let the bird die? Not show up to her job? God, the look on her face. She knew how distracting it was, and I didn’t know how to tell her that it was okay.

There’s this assumption that there’s a common way to act when things feel impossible. The past year and a half; trying to teach on Zoom, and here’s my kid next to me in Zoom seventh grade who needs help figuring out the square root of a trinomial. How do we navigate these impossible situations?

In any of the things I make—fiction or nonfiction, memoir or essays or whatever the form—I want to dig into how being a human being is so deeply messy and so deeply awful and so deeply lovely. And how do we put together the great Jenga of all of those highs and lows?

AE:  Theres so much talk about what makes something memoir. When you were writing these books, this whole idea of a collection of essays seemed toI could be wrong about thisbut it seemed new, to have a book that was a collection of personal essays. That may be because when your first book came out was when I began to seriously consider my own writing and how to put things together on the page. So, I really started paying attention to things like the possibilities of form and structure.

Interestingly, the first book I read of yours was The Wrong Way to Save Your Life, your most recent book.And while I was reading Once I was Cool, I recognized several pieces, which I’d seen you perform in various places. And I had the same experience with Everyone Remain Calm. So, your writing career? I just went in reverse.

It was interesting to see the progression of what seemed to be your 30s and then roll back to your 20s in these narratives. But the magical realism in Once I Was CalmI’m sorry Everyone Remain Calm is the story collection

Three Book Covers by Megan Stielstra

MS: I’ve been swapping both of those manuscripts back and forth for a year with my editor at Northwestern University Press and she titled the working doc for Everyone Remain Calm “Calm,” and then “Cool,” for Once I Was Cool. The other day she said, “Your next book has to be The Collected Essays.”

AE: Calm, Cool and Collected!

MS: I don’t think I’m ready for “The Collected”. I need to put more work in the world before we collect me.


I think our dreams and our fantasies are just as much a part of our memory as any lived experience. — Megan Stielstra


AE: So now that I have my titles, in Everyone Remain Calm you’re playing with magical realism. The life you bring to your essays, whether they’re something I’m listening to in a room full of people or reading by myself, is always large. Your essays and stories have big characters, like their auras are huge, if that makes any sense. So, when that bigness started to morph into stuff that got wilder and wilder, I just found myself going with it and believing you. Especially because you’re writing so specifically in many stories about Chicago, and I’m older than you are; but you’re still writing about a lot of the same neighborhoods and places that I knew when I was in my 20s. 

So, I’m reading it, and muttering, Oh, yeah, I can see this. Yeah, I knew these people. I can totally see how this could happen. And so, the magical realism was like, ehhh?  it could happen. It’s not too far out. I think that’s a common experience of one’s 20s. Everything is larger than life, fantastical. As I was reading, I jotted down: fiction? autofiction? In Incredible, the story about The Hulk living under your bed, you said you felt it was one of the most autobiographical, most true things you’d ever written. After I read it, despite the impossibility of it, I understood why you’d say that.

MS: I think our dreams and our fantasies are just as much a part of our memory as any lived experience. I’ve always been interested in getting at the truth, but for me, and certainly when I was writing the stories in Everyone Remain Calm, truth lived in fiction. I remember reading “The Metamorphosis” on the el going to work at a job that I hated and, you know, the whole story is a guy doesn’t want to go to work so he manifests himself into a giant bug. And I sat there on the el like, God, what can I turn myself into? I could turn into a cloud and float away, I could turn into a unicorn and run away, or like a cheetah or a tiger. My imagination just started rolling. So how does imagination—and in this case, fiction—give us the possibility of making it to the end of the day? Some days are fucking hard.

I’m thinking about me back when I was writing these books, working and trying to pay for college, which—let’s be clear—is nothing compared to what the young people I work with now are paying. There’s no way that I could have done what I did and made the things that I’m making now if I was up against the tuition they’re up against. I worked for a decade at a brunch restaurant in Chicago called the Bongo Room and pouring those mimosas and Bloody Marys helped me pay off my loans (thank you, Bongo Room customers. I love you). Also: that’s where I got interested in how people tell stories out loud.

Logo 2nd StoryI started to research the connection between oral telling and written telling—it’s fascinating—and around that time I met Adam Belcore who was starting a storytelling series at Webster Wine Bar called 2nd Story. The first performance I went to was slam-packed, with storytellers sitting on the bar wearing lav mics, like they were Madonna. I’d never seen anything like it. It was this deeply Chicago way of making art; trying, experimenting.

The room was L-shaped, so wherever you were seated, you couldn’t always see the performer, but you could hear them through the speakers. I remember sitting there, and what I heard was: “And I was all….” and then the audience laughed. “And then she was all….” and the audience laughed again. So you knew the performer was doing something with their gestures or facial expressions or something, but from where I was seated, I couldn’t tell.

Afterwards, Adam asked me what I thought and I was like, “This is amazing. But maybe your performers could have some back-up with the writing because there are ways that you can convey in text that gesture, that physicality, that information that’s being conveyed through performance.”

And he said, “Great, do you want a job?”

I started making things with 2nd Story, working with Amanda Delheimer and Khanisha Foster and Kimberlee Soo and all these incredible theatre artists. That’s when I started writing personal narrative; examining the truth through experience as opposed to imagination. I’d always used the word story to describe my writing, but working with writers at 2nd Story really made me examine my relationship to truth and nonfiction. If I get on that microphone and talk about postpartum depression, and there are human beings in the audience who’ve had that experience, who come up to me afterwards to connect and I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I made that up,”—that would be a kind of betrayal.

Logo Write ClubAE: I was hanging out after a Write Club show. I don’t remember who I’d seen, but I was talking to Ian Belknap (Founder and Overlord of W.C. and coiner of the phrase “Live Lit”) afterwards and wound up telling him a story of a particularly unpleasant experience that I had as a young person. He looked at me and said, “You need to go home. You need to write that down word for word, just like you just told me. And you need to share that because you never know who you’re going to help.” That has stuck in the back of my head all these years. When you get to that point of ‘I don’t know why I do this, because it feels like such a weight to dig into the truth of stuff sometimes, I’ll get his voice in my ear: Somebody out there needs to hear this. You just don’t know who you’re going to help.

MS:  There’s this poem by Sean Thomas Doherty called Why bother?


Why bother?

 Because right now there is someone

Out there with

a wound in the exact shape

of your words.


AE: I love that, I love that. I always get the wording wrong, but I love that poem. Oh, yes!

MS: It’s tacked up over my desk. Whenever things get hard with the writing, I reread that poem and it’s like, okay. That’s it. That’s why. My life has been totally saved by a story, by a book, and if I can pay that forward in some way? Let’s keep paying it forward.

AE:  Yeah, it’s not easy. It’s not easy work, though.

MS: It’s not, but I think this gets at a question you asked about writing for the page and writing for the stage. Live audiences in Chicago have made all the hard parts worth it. They make me feel brave.

AE: They’re very generousvery, very generous here.

MS: There are times when I’ve written things that I couldn’t imagine putting into print, but then I get on a microphone and see right away that the work has impact. Performance is the most immediate form of feedback. You really want to know if that essay is working? Get in front of a live audience in Chicago and you’ll know if you’re not being brave enough, not being truthful, not bringing your whole self to the table. I walk offstage thinking, This has value. And then I think, Now I have to make it better. And then I think, I want to put this into the world in a different way, which for me means publication.

There’s a safety, too, in live performance. I don’t have to worry about my kid reading it ten years in the future, or my father in Alaska, or my ex, wherever he is. The number one question I get working with memoirists is about people they know reading the work. Often, that means their mothers, their partners, their friends. But some people have high-stakes concerns; legal implications, custody, violence. I’ve heard writing teachers say, “Oh, just write whatever and put it out there,” and it’s like, dude, some people are worrying about their children being taken from them, or physical harm. I think that advice is dangerous. The only thing that I care about more than a writer’s writing is a writer’s personal safety.

Sometimes safety is an emotional thing—what is the writer ready to put into the world? I published an essay last fall in an amazing experimental journal called Khôra, edited by Leigh Hopkins. It was the one place where I sent work about what I’m experiencing currently because I’m still unsure how to write it in a way that protects my kid and, for that matter, my own stupid heart. Leigh gave me the space and editorial support to work through those questions.

AE: There’s a little bit of grief in there?

MS: Yeah. The last book (The Wrong Way to Save Your Life) was about fear, and the current stuff is grief. Maybe Once I Was Cool was the hope? And Everyone Remain Calm was the fantasy. Here’s how the world could be.

Amy Eaton performing at Write Club

Amy Eaton performing at Write Club

AE: It’s like you’re hitting a decade of your life or big transitional moment of adulthood with each book. Which I found so relatable. I really felt taken back to all those memories of what it was like to be that young and free and sometimes foolish. I got pretty nostalgic myself.

MS: Amy, you were probably there.

AE: Oh, I’m sure we were like, six degrees of separation—

MS: We were in the same places.

AE: I bartended a block south of the Rainbo Club, and I’m sure if we started throwing theater names around

MS: I can’t talk about the work that I do on the page without talking about theatre artists in Chicago, specifically Amanda Delheimer from 2nd Story. I’m completely biased about her—she’s my kid’s godmother—but she’s also directed my work for 20 years and knows my head and heart better than anyone.

Before the essays in Once I Was Cool ever touched an editor’s hands, they went through her eyes as a director. For me, the relationship between performer and director is deeply connected to the relationship between writer and editor. Amanda’s way of synthesizing what a piece is about and how it needs to be lifted up has had such a profound effect on me as both a writer and a teacher, and what I have learned from her theater work and all the other theater artists that she put me in contact with: Khanisha Foster, Kimberlee Soo, Matt Miller, Ric Walker, Adam.

One time I worked with Will Davis for a collaboration between 2nd Story and Steppenwolf and Will was like, “Let’s talk about the first sentence.” Then we sat and talked for a half hour. And he said, “Okay. Let’s talk about the second sentence,” and I swear, Amy, there is no work that I’ve ever made that I know better than that piece. That practice is essential to me now as a reader; slow, sentence-by-sentence.

There’s a really wonderful essay by Ben Percy at The Rumpus called The Slowest Reader about what it means to examine a text. Can I assign it to your readers? We so often read our own work thinking, What’s bad about this, what do I need to fix? What do I not like? What if you can flip that? What if you can go into the revision process from, God, what did I do that’s amazing?

AE: Wow.

MS: That’s the thing that I learned from Will. From Amanda. From live Chicago audiences and how they respond to a text. I performed a couple of weeks ago at the Paper Machete, my first time on a microphone in a year and a half. And there was one particular line where the audience started screaming.

AE: Ohhhh!

MS: I stopped reading. I watched the crowd applaud—I felt more like myself than I had in month—and the takeaway has to be, Go back and look at that line, Megan, whatever you’re doing there is working!

AE: Oh, that’s magnificent!

MS: Start from the place of love, right? Why on earth would I go back into that text and look for what’s shitty? Let’s start from what has an effect and build out from there. I’ve been walking around for two weeks thinking about that line. “It’s dangerous, you know, to put a woman on a microphone.”  What am I going to do with that line? I mean, yes, it’s part of the performance piece that I read…

AE: Mmm-hmm.

MS: …but it can also live on the page. It can become its own thing. Kiese Layman has this amazing piece on his website called We’re Not Good Enough to Not Practice. I recommend it to everyone. He talks about how not everything you write has to go into one piece. So sometimes, in that first draft, when I’m rereading it, I look for what’s working, what strikes me—it’s a gut-level thing, I think, a body reaction. You know.

AE: Yeah.


You get to be a writer forever. Something you wrote yesterday may not find its place until next year, or five years or ten. You have to trust it. — Megan Stielstra


MS: I don’t know if everything around that part is good yet, but that part right there—that’s it. Take it out, paste that line or paragraph or section into a new document and look at that on its own for a minute. How can you build around it? There’s a lot of stuff that I cut out of Once I Was Cool because it didn’t fit into particular essays, but I made it into something that ended up being part of The Wrong Way To Save Your Life. You get to be a writer forever. Something you wrote yesterday may not find its place until next year, or five years or ten. You have to trust it.

AE: After a year and a half of the pandemic, what was it like to be back in a room full of people performing again?

MS: I have spent a lot of time this past year and a half thinking about what home is. I spent the first six months in Michigan, where I grew up. And then Las Vegas for six months. After that, Oakland until April. It was nice to be in places where nobody knew me. I could be…new. Nobody knew me.

I don’t know if home is a place anymore. Right now it’s my kid. Like, if my kid is in Taco Bell, Taco Bell is home. I live in Taco Bell.

I felt pretty complicated about coming back to Chicago. There are so many memories here, dungeons to dig through. But man, that microphone at the Paper Machete. That stool at 2nd Story. Those are the places that made me who I am as a writer and a teacher, a mother and a friend, a citizen and advocate. Those rooms with people telling and listening to stories—really trying to see each other in all our weird complicated humanity—that’s home.

I’m thinking about how to get rid of memory, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-type stuff. Or maybe—and this is more doable—how to change memory, to find a different meaning in the moments you can’t shake. So many of those moments hard. They hurt. Like whatever story you told Ian after Write Club. I don’t care if you publish that story tomorrow, but God, my friend, get it out of your body so you don’t have to carry it anymore.

Lidia Yuknavitch has this great line, ‘Our bodies can’t possibly carry everything that we’ve been given to carry, but the page can hold it.’ She’s talking about the big stories, the hard ones, but the seemingly small ones, too, like the birds outside your window, or Annie Dillard looking at a weasel.

When I was in Michigan, right behind my mom’s house, there are the train tracks, and right behind the train tracks, there’s a hill, and behind the hill, a 10-mile hiking trail. When my son and I lived with her in Michigan the first six months after the pandemic started, I would jump the railroad tracks and, just on that line of the hill before you got to the trail, I would walk back and forth and cry. I didn’t want to worry my mom. I didn’t want to worry my kid, but you need to get that shit out of your body. Because there was just—oh my god—the pandemic, the fear, the racial and civic uprising centuries in the making, a polarizing political climate and the personal mountains everyone was moving.

I had this very new, very raw, exposed-nerve sort of heartbreak, I didn’t know where I lived anymore, I’d walked away from Chicago and everything I own, my kid and I were living out of the back of a car and there was so much fucking Zoom my eyeballs were falling out, so I’d go to the hill and I’d cry. I’m there crying. I’m crying and crying and crying and a turkey walked up to me.

AE: Oh!

MS: I’ve been in Chicago for 25 years. I am no longer the person to whom a turkey just comes up and everything is, like, chill. But everything was so fucked up. I said to the turkey—yes, I talked to the turkey— ‘You’re supposed to be telling me something right? Like you’re the raccoon at the end of Fleabag?’ And then—I know that I make up a lot of shit but this is the God’s honest truth—I was packing my car in California last April to drive my kid and I back to the Midwest and a turkey—and this is urban Oakland, it’s not like we’re on a farm or something—

AE: (Laugh-crying) Ohmygod…..

MS: A turkey walked into the street. In front of my car. It was just there, looking at me. ‘No fucking way, Turkey,’ I said. And it just stood there. We stood there.

Do I know what that means yet, Amy? No I do not. But it’s worthy of interrogation. That’s the work, right? Sometimes that means sitting down to write about gun violence in my city because that is worthy of interrogation. Even though I don’t know how to write that essay, I’m going to sit my ass down and figure it out. Maybe it will end up as literary narrative, or investigative research, or cultural critique. All of those different parts of me live in my brain. All of those can live inside the personal essay, which is why I love that form so deeply.

If you track Virginia Woolf’s diaries, she has these sections where she’s talking about an image stuck in her head of a kid standing in a rowboat holding a fish. It keeps popping up, who knows why? but it ends up being a predominant image in her novel To The Lighthouse. She wrote into the image. She figured it out. She did the work.

What I’m saying it, I have to figure out the turkey.

AE: I can’t wait to hear that story.

MS: Me too. I’ll get there.

AE: That is one of the things I dearly love about nonfiction is that thing of, you couldn’t even make that up if you tried.

MS: There’s a story in Everyone Remain Calm called “Professional Development” where I’m at AWP in New Orleans and a marching band follows me back to Chicago. Here’s the truth: I was at AWP. I was a little drunk. I was going to meet some of my colleagues. I was walking through the French Quarter and there was a marching band behind me. I took a left turn. They also took a left turn. I took a right turn; they did, too. And in my blurry head, I was sure that they were following me. Of course, they weren’t! I was walking their route! But that’s not an interesting story.

Sometimes being truthful means being truthful to the story as opposed to the experience. That’s why we have language like fiction and nonfiction—it offers a contract with the audience. Amanda talks about this all the time: what it means to honor that contract. When you open an article in The New York Times, you’re assuming it’s researched, vetted work (there’s a longer conversation to be had about whether or not journalism can really be objective, what publications employ fact checkers, etc.). Whereas the contract that you step into with, say, The Onion is ‘of course this didn’t happen, but it sure as hell is true.’

AE: Another thing that shows up as a consistent theme in your work is parenting, but even more interestingly, being parented. I think there’s a lot about the way you are parented in your work, which is really, really lovely. I think you’re one of the few writers I can think of that writes about being parented in a full and supported way that you don’t see often in nonfiction.

MS: Thank you.

Every story, I think, comes back to mothering. It’s the most profound subject matter. How we were cared for, for better or worse…. — Megan Stielstra


AE: I think in a lot of nonfiction, there’s a lot of And here’s what was missing. Here’s what I did not get.It’s really gratifying and hopeful to see itlike, Oh, god, this is what it can look like! And especially with a father/daughter relationship.

MS: That’s one of the privileges of my life. I had parents who loved me and showed me that love in language and action. I’ve spent twenty-five years as a teacher reading people’s stories, and I’ve had a front-row seat to the complicated and often painful relationships so many people have with their parents. I know how lucky I am and think about it all the time in how I parent myself.

Every story, I think, comes back to mothering. It’s the most profound subject matter. How we were cared for, for better or worse. How we care for others or try to. How we show up for people. I am endlessly amazed by the lack of importance of motherhood in our literary imagination, the tropes and the clichés and invisibility. I did a reading a couple years ago about birth, my body ripped open on a table, blood and shit and screaming. I made a human being out of scratch.

Afterwards I went to the bar, I was shaky and wanted something to calm my nerves. The bartender said, “That was a nice mom story,” like I’d just read about grocery shopping. I wager most mother-writers or parent-writers have a story like that, whether their children are biological or adopted; living or dead; or some kind of art that they’re trying to make or nurture or support into existence. Anyway, usually I brush those comments off because who has that kind of time? But on that particular night the rage of centuries of furious women came up out of my body. I imagined opening my mouth and a beam of fire shot out and lit this dude up. He saw the look on my face and said, ‘I should probably buy you this drink.’

AE: Huh, yeah he should!

MS: I told him to buy me the bottle. But what I really want him to do is read. The disdain for this particular subject matter is dangerous and shows an alarming lack of understanding of what people who give birth in this country experience. You want the continuation of the goddamn human race? Pay attention to mothers. Vote for us. Vote for policies and candidates who support us. Listen to us, read us, buy our books, hire us, promote us.

AE: What are you working on next?

MS: I’m writing a novel. It’s called The Smashing. And I’m in the guts of a really long essay about grief, told through all the times I’ve cried on Zoom over the past year and a half.

For me there’s a difference between the practice of writing and the choice of if and how to share that writing. I wrote tens of thousands of words since the pandemic hit and they’re all still… for me. They’ll get there, though. I’ll get there. The truth is I’m still living it. My son and I just moved into our first apartment since March 2020. I just got my books out of storage. I just got us mattresses. I need to… exhale.

AE: That sounds like a lot. That sounds exciting. 

MS: It is! I’m also working on a project with a contemporary chamber ensemble called Eighth Blackbird. They’re scoring sections of Everyone Remain Calm and I’ll perform live with their pianist and percussionist.

AE: That’ll be so cool!

MS: It’s good to be getting back to the performance work. The energy in the room. The voices.

AE: And just as a quick thing, when I started Once I Was Coolmy husband’s a sound engineer and a musician. And I started reading the first essay, Stop Reading and Listen about living across the street from the Aragon. And he was next to me. Then I just started to nudge him, You gotta listen to this. So I started reading.  And finally, he just looked at me. ‘Are you going to read the whole book out loud to me?

MS: I love that!

AE: I said, No! I’m just reading you this one essay! Just this one!

MS: I love when people read my work out loud and I love when they say, ‘I had to stop reading and go write my own thing.’ My hope for both of these books is that you’ll think of your own stories. You’ll see how they have value and join the conversation. Join us. We need you. We’re trying to remake the world.


Everyone Remain Calm and Once I Was Cool were both released by Northwestern University Press in August, 2021. Megan Stielstra is also the author the collection The Wrong Way to Save Your Lifethe 2017 Nonfiction Book of the Year from the Chicago Review of Books. Her work appears in the Best American Essays, New York Times, The Believer, Tin House, Longreads, Guernica, and elsewhere. A longtime company member with 2nd Story, she has told stories for National Public Radio, Radio National Australia, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and theatres, festivals, and classrooms around the county. She teaches creative nonfiction at Northwestern University and weird, wonderful Zoom spaces in your living room. Find her online on Twitter, Instagram and her website.


Meet the Contributor

Headshot: Amy EatonAmy Eaton is a writer, performer, director and arts educator in Chicago. She is a three-time presenter at HippoCamp:A Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers, and her work has appeared in The Coachella Review and Mulberry Literary.  Live Lit and performance credits include Write Club Chicago, MissSpoken, The Stoop, 20×2 Chicago, and Tellin’ Tales Theatre among others. She recently directed storyteller Lily Be in her one woman show, What are You, Lily Be?  at the 2021 Fillet of Solo. She  currently teaches Live Lit for Creative Light Factory and is at work on a memoir. Connect with Amy on Twitter.



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