On Research and Relationships: An Interview with Kathryn Miles

Kathryn Miles is a longform journalist, memoirist, and environmental writing professor. Her most recent book is Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy, published in 2014. She is the author of Adventures with Ari: A Puppy, a Leash & Our Year Outdoors, and All Standing: The Remarkable Story of the Jeanie Johnston, the Legendary Irish Famine Ship. Her nonfiction has been selected for Best American Essays, and has appeared in a wide range of publications such as Alimentum, Ecotone, Outside, The Boston Globe, Psychology Today, and The New York Times. In addition to being a mentor in Chatham University’s low-residency MFA program, she teaches in the low-residency Masters program at Green Mountain College in Vermont.

Kathryn Miles joined Chatham’s Summer Community of Writers in July 2015 as the featured creative nonfiction writer.

The Fourth River: You got your start as a reporter in high school, correct? Since then you’ve written many things and your style has no doubt changed a lot. What traits of that rookie reporter have you retained? Or is everything about your work different?

Kathryn Miles: The Peoria Journal Star, a really wonderful daily, took a chance and hired me as a cub reporter when I was 16. It was sort of a dream-come-true for me: my godparents, who were really like surrogate grandparents, met and fell in love while working there. So, in a lot of ways, it felt like a family legacy for me to follow in their footsteps, and, like them, I really grooved on the dynamism of an active newsroom. I took an incredibly circuitous route back to journalism – I majored in philosophy as an undergraduate and took a Ph.D. in English – but the roots have always remained. What I really learned from those early days was the importance of old fashioned reportage: sitting and listening, and letting your subjects be the voice of their own stories. I also learned about the crucial importance of accuracy and writing on deadline: two considerations all creative writers need to internalize, and ones I’m constantly reminded of in my work today. What’s changed, I think, is my newfound appreciation for narrative and storytelling: literary journalism was an unknown concept to me then, and it really defines my writing today. I’m much more aware of voice and the arc of a story than I ever was then.

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