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Meet the Loft's New Program Manager: Sherrie Fernandez-Williams

Posted on Tue, Sep 9 2014 1:30 pm by Lindsey Giaquinto

We're thrilled to announce the latest addition to our staff: Sherrie Fernandez-Williams! A talented writer, teacher, and former Mentor Series Participant, Sherrie joins us as our new Program Manager. Originally from Brooklyn, Sherrie has since been an invaluable part of the Twin Cities writing community—and we feel pretty lucky to have her. Here, she answers a few questions about her 17 years of education experience, her commitment to promoting personal growth in others, and her just-released memoir, Soft.

We're so excited to welcome you to the Loft staff, Sherrie! As a former Loft Mentor Series participant, how has your career path led you back to our community?     

I am excited to be here!

My own experience in the Loft Mentor Series strengthened my identity as a writer. I was three years out of my MFA program. Like most, my writing was being done in isolation. Writing alone with little accountability or feedback can suppress the writing spirit. I was in rewrites of my memoir, uncertain of direction or the real story I wanted to tell. My year in the Mentor Series helped me identify and focus on my major themes. Being mentored and encouraged by established and emerging writers helped me to understand the qualities of my voice; what to sustain and what to develop. Most importantly, I was given the confidence to go forth with my writing goals. 

The year I participated in the Mentor Series was also my first year in my former position as Bridges Scholars Program Director at Hamline University. The program is designed to support students along their journey of self-discovery and career decision-making. I believe we have all been given a collection of talents, interests, and values. We find fulfillment in work when we are allowed to express our talents, interests, and values to the highest possible degree.

My work with students felt like a meaningful endeavor on multiple levels. My job was to guide students to their path, but I was very much engaged in my own process of exploration. I was the instructor and a co-participant. I reflected as I wrote curriculum and led discussions. During Monday morning chats, my co-workers might share their weekend happenings; a ball game, a concert, a new restaurant they’d been dying to try. My favorite weekend highlights included a reading or an amazing afternoon spent with Twin Cities Black Women Writing, my writing circle. Along with my intrinsic need to support others in their development, I have always had a profound affection for storytelling and storytellers. I could not have imagined a more perfect way to live what I love than working at the Loft Literary Center.

What excites you most about working at the Loft?

After two days here, I recognize how fortunate I am to have this opportunity. Not only will I be living my values, I will be doing so in coalition with a creative group of people who display genuine admiration and respect for one another. The energy they bring to work is contagious! I am thoroughly excited to be part of this mission of helping other writers find their path.

You've got a memoir coming out this fall. Congratulations! Can you tell us a bit more about your writing process and path to publication?

Thank you. My memoir is now out and available!

The years it took to get my manuscript to publication are hazy, probably because I wasn’t completely awake. To get myself in the writing space, it helps if I am a little bit sleepy. Instead of drinking caffeine, I drink chamomile tea. My favorite writing time is 6 a.m. or midnight depending upon when my insomnia shows-up. It helps if my defenses are down and I haven’t entered the time of day when the social-self is fully vigilant and super protective.

My general process is as follows: First dump without censorship, judgment, or clear purpose. Next, delete, delete, delete. This is why my project started at 289 pages, but ended up at 175 in its final form. Then, I become picky about language and ask, if there a better word or phrase I could use here or there? This process is never done. This is why I have some panic about my book being published. Like it or not, the tweaking is over. It is time to move on.

Perhaps like other memoirists, I struggled most with structure. There are debates about the necessity of a narrative arch in memoir. Zigzagging through time seems to be the preferred method according to Sven Birkerts who wrote The Art of Time in Memoir. The trick is maintaining your narrative arch, while zigzagging through time and not losing the reader. My knowledgeable readers were essential in helping me attempt this. Barrie Jean Borich instructed me to incorporate a forward moving “now” voice. Carolyn Holbrook identified my “home-base.” My structure was born out of those two nuggets of advice. I discovered my present place of safety. From there, I was free to travel anywhere, anytime.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Do you primarily write nonfiction, or do you cross into other genres as well? 

My friends and family have heard this story numerous times. In Mrs. Hirschman’s third grade class, I was the quiet, skinny girl with glasses living in Brooklyn Public Housing. I was the observer and almost invisible until the day Mrs. Hirschman told us we would be writing a “composition.” I often say it was the day I first realized I was a person and not just two large eyes. Still, I did not know I could be a writer until I was thirteen, thanks to Mr. Fracarro, my 7th grade English teacher at Susan B. Smith McKinney Junior High School.  

When I majored in creative writing as an undergrad, I took every creative writing class Hofstra University offered: poetry, fiction, creating nonfiction, and playwriting. Back then, playwriting excited me like no other. Later, in my first year as an MFA student at Hamline, I took a personal essay class with Patricia Weaver Francisco and found myself writing the memoir that became my thesis. After many revisions and 115 less pages, my thesis became my first book.    

What's on your TBR (To Be Read) list?

I love to read local authors and I am finishing Prairie Silence by Melanie Hoffert in the midst of reading all of the amazing works from this year’s mentors. The next book on my list written by a Minnesota author is the novel The Rose Variations by Marisha Chamberlain.

Also, I am trying to determine if I am still a playwright. For years, I have had a secret desire to write a play inspired by the creative nonfiction of Audre Lorde. My partner, Buffy, has a not-so-secret desire to play the leading role. I keep the Zami: A New Spelling of my Name and Sister-Outsider close to my bedside just in case I have a sleepy moment of courage.