Meet Megan Stielstra

Megan is the author of Once I Was Cool, and her collection THE WRONG WAY TO SAVE YOUR LIFE is forthcoming from Harper Perennial. Her work appears in the Best American Essays, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Guernica, and on National Public Radio, and she performs regularly with 2nd Story and The Paper Machete live news magazine at The Green Mill. She teaches creative nonfiction at Northwestern University.


Who is your favorite character? 

I could answer this in a ton of different ways [1] and all of them would be true, but for now let’s go with this: I just read an excellent essay by Roxane Gay about unlikeable woman in literature and I’m thinking about Cathy Ames from East of Eden, who’s introduced with the line, “I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents.” And Anna Karennina, who trades everything—everything—for passion and is vilified for it, vilified by herself, even! And Cersei Lannister, who gives, like, zero fucks. These women are constantly knocked down and they constantly get up. Everyone wants to cage them and they are not having it. No matter how tormented, they still push back. They make their own decisions, their own rules. Would you want to be friends with them? Maybe no; maybe yes, but honestly, who gives a shit? Lidia Yuknavitch’s Dora. Dorothy Allison’s Bone. Claire Underwood from House of Cards. Sethe, who killed her own children. All of them fight, in their own unique ways. Give me the women who fight. The ones with claws, who live and love and make their own goddamn choices, for better or worse.

What inspires you? 

My students. They’re publishing, they’re performing, they’re teaching, they’re starting their own magazines. One just bought a one-way ticket to Prague. Another’s on her way to Thailand; another to New Orleans; another to Saudi Arabia. A group of them started a storytelling series that focuses on social justice. Another group teaches photography to young women who survived sex trafficking. One is taking on the college’s procudures and policies for students who identify as trans. They’re activists and advocates. They care—so much so that I worry about them, their hearts out there so full and raw, but they’re trying. They’re living. They have jobs; some have two or three. They have families, blood and chosen, some with brand new babies, and they show up bleary-eyed, not knowing their left from their right,  but they’re there, and all of them—all of them—are writing their faces off, writing through it and in it and because of it. All those think pieces you read about Kids Today slacking off?—fuck that noise. My students are killing it. #lookoutfuture

What is your hidden talent? 

I am awesome at Don’t Touch The Floor, that game where everyone pretends that the ground is red hot lava.

What gets you through a rough day? 

Coffee and/or Maker’s Mark, depending on the hour.

Who helped get you here? 

Again, I could answer in a ton of ways [2] but for now I’d like to throw my gratitude at Stephanie Chavara and Ozzie Totten, who help out with my son. Knowing that he’s safe, that he’s having fun—it’s everything. I’m able to be a working artist. I’m able to live these totally different and totally vital parts of myself. 

Footnotes (Because she fucking loves Footnotes):

[1] Buffy Summers. Penny Gadget. Remedios the Beauty. Yu Shu Lien. Keyser Soze. Delia Byrd. Omar Little. Gregor Samsa. Bigger Thomas. Sarah Connor. Sarah Manning. Gandalf. Athena. Inigo Montoya. Bond. Trinity. Michonne. Yossarian. Ellen Ripley. Jack Torrance. Olympia Binewski. Cal Stephaanides. Bartelby the Scrivner. Roseanne Roseannadanna. Tyler Durden. Kara Thrace. Victor Joseph. Peggy Paula. Tank Girl. Clara Bowden. Lena Grove. Frances Piper. Antigone. Maggie Pollitt. Lafayette Reynolds. Arthur Christmas. Olivia Pope. Rebecca Waynon. Claire Fisher. Sonya Alexandrovna Serebryakova. Super Martian Robot Girl. The Great Gilly Hopkins. Lydia Deetz. Gob Bluth. Sloth. Jean Gray. Jessica Rabbit. Seymour Glass. Florentino Ariza. Peter Pan. Thelma and Louise. Indiana Jones. And the entire cast of Firefly, especially Zoe, and the part where River tells Jane she can kill him with her brain.

[2] Christopher and Caleb Jobson. My mom and my dad. Jeff Oaks. Dia Penning. Lott Hill. Randy Albers. Bobby Biedrzycki. Amanda Delheimer. Khanisha Foster. Deb Lewis. Molly Each. Elizabeth Crane. Joe Meno. Adam Belcuore. Patricia Ann McNair. John Schultz and Betty Shiflett. Aaron Stielstra. Samantha Irby. Christopher Piatt. Scotty Karate. Jacob Knabb. Naomi Huffman and Ben Tanzer. Gina Frangello. Roxane Gay. Cheryl Strayed. Emily Shultz and Brian Joseph Davis. Andrew Reilly. Jotham Burello. Derrick Robles and John Latino. Kristin Lewis. Amy Martin. Amy Danzer. Soo La Kim. Janice Knight. Sarah Zematis. And all of the storytellers I’ve worked with over the years, who challenge me to climb higher.

Want more? Visit Megan’s website and connect with her twitter

Photo credit: Julie Sadowski at Grayscale Studios