Melinda Moustakis was born in Fairbanks, Alaska and raised in Bakersfield, California. She received her MA from UC Davis and her PhD in English and Creative Writing from Western Michigan University. Bear Down Bear North: Alaska Stories, her first book published by University of Georgia Press in 2011, won the Flannery O’ Connor Award and the Maurice Prize and was a 5 Under 35 selection by the National Book Foundation. The book was also a finalist for the Washington State Book Award and shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Conjunctions, Cimarron Review, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere, and her story “They Find the Drowned” won a 2013 PEN/ O. Henry Prize. She was recently a Hodder Fellow at The Lewis Center of the Arts at Princeton University.
Whenever I sit down to read a student’s writing, I try to think of all the possibilities that could exist in the world that has been created on the page. Each piece is a puzzle, a code, a map and it is a reader’s job to parse out the particular possibilities and directions and structures that will help tell the story that needs to be told. I encourage writers to be daring and to try the things that scare them—a certain point of view, perhaps, or a wildly imaginative plot. If you as a writer are continually challenging yourself, then your work will have that unmistakable energy that compels a reader to keep reading.
I also encourage students to find lines and moments in stories or novels that jump out at them, or break their hearts, or are unforgettable. The task is then study those lines and moments and figure out why they work in the story, what leads up to them, how is the writer creating that effect. Reading is a way to collect new possibilities you might want to try out immediately, or years later, when the time and story is right.