Sue Repko’s essays have been named notable three times in Best American Essays and won the 2019 Maine Literary Award for Short Nonfiction. She is a freelance writer and editor with an MFA from Bennington. It took her over fourteen years to complete STANDOFF: Memoir of a Gunsmith’s Daughter. At the moment, she is just coming up for air. Sue was kind enough to answer a few questions about her upcoming trip to her home state of Pennsylvania for our annual writing conference:
Q: Tell us a little about your involvement this year at HippoCamp.
A: This year I’ll be running a breakout session called “Diving Into the Wreck: How to Write the Hard Parts, Come Up for Air and Self-Care, and Finish Your Memoir.” I’ll be sharing strategies that I discovered on my own and also from other writers/teachers to sustain oneself while writing about difficult things.
Everyone has to decide what and how much to tell when writing about past trauma. It’s a risky endeavor, especially when the process of remembering and writing can trigger our body’s physical response to that past trauma. The body doesn’t know the difference between past and present, and a memoirist may find themselves back in a negative physical or emotional spiral, so the term “self-care” takes on a whole new dimension for writers of trauma. We need a support system, specific to each of us, that allows us to maintain our connection to the here-and-now.
I hope I can help others become more aware, realize they are not alone, and that they can complete the story they want to tell in a way that is sustainable for them.
Q: Our motto is “memorable creative nonfiction.” Tell us about one of the more recent memoirs, essay collections, or individual essays you’ve read and why it was memorable.
A: Just this week I was blown away by an essay, “Delivered,” by Jennifer Banash in the Los Angeles Review of Books. It’s about an affair with a long-ago lover that upended her long-term marriage. There was an inexorability to the essay and to the relationship. I don’t want to give anything away. I’ll just say that there was one line that I can’t forget: “To an unhealed person, the abuse feels like going home.”
Q: What made you decide to participate in HippoCamp this year as a speaker? If you’re a returning speaker, how did your past experiences encourage to want to come back?
A: I led a breakout session a few years ago with another writer, and just really loved the vibe of the conference, the mix of experience and literary fame of the speakers and presenters, and the absence of the typical hierarchy of writing conferences. Such a relief and a great atmosphere in which to learn and share.
Q: What’s going to keep you busy between now and HippoCamp?
A: I’m working on some short nonfiction pieces and about to launch a freelance editorial business while my memoir is out on submission to publishers. Trying to stay in the moment and not constantly check my email! Also looking forward to an upcoming mini-college reunion with dear friends as we all celebrate a significant birthday. 🙂
Q: Since you’ll also be attending the conference, when you’re not wearing your “speaker hat,” what are you most looking forward to learning or doing?
A: I am going to pack in as many breakout sessions and panels as I can, and talk to as many writers as I can! I have remained relatively cautious as COVID continues and I am starved for in-person conversation and writerly events!
Q: We love introducing Lancaster to attendees. Since you’ve been here before, what would you recommend to other attendees? And what are you looking forward to?
A: I just recommend getting up early and taking some long walks to explore whatever neighborhoods you can. As an urban planner, I find there’s nothing that compares with experiencing a place on foot.
We can’t wait for Sue to join us again this year! HippoCamp 2022, a creative nonfiction conference sponsored by Hippocampus Magazine and Books, is Aug. 12-14 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. For more information or to register, visit our official conference website here.
Learn more about the conference and see details of all previous years at our magazine website’s HippoCamp page.)