Kimberly Crum is joining us today at Literary Labors. Kimberly has a writing business in Louisville, Kentucky and has taught writing for many years. She enjoys writing non-fiction and her essays have appeared in a variety of publications. Her magazine articles have garnered praise from the Society for Professional Journalists. In addition to an MFA in Writing from Spalding University, Kimberly has a Master of Social Work degree. Thanks for joining us!


So, you’re a writer who has actually done something atypical – you started a business that is all about teaching people how to write. Can you tell us how you went about this and what inspired you?

What is atypical is that I started a business to teach writing. As many MFA graduates, I served as adjunct faculty to support my writing habit. Nine years after my MFA graduation, I started my own business. I wanted to bring the workshop process to “ordinary” people who want to tell life stories. Quickly, I discovered the need for a dedicated space. I rented a studio at the Mellwood Art & Entertainment Center in Louisville and voilà—a clueless small business owner emerged to the not-so-welcoming world of invoices, accounts receivable, cash flow/profit and loss statements, websites and marketing. During my first year, I almost broke even. Could have done better if not for the furnishings and the overspending. Here is some advice that might help readers learn from my mistakes:

*Avoid the bells and whistles that promise to make bookkeeping and marketing a snap. Start small, using ordinary face-to-face and e-mail marketing. An Excel spreadsheet is good enough for bookkeeping.

*If you are awkward with the Web, as I was, find a 19-year-old digital native to teach you how to use social networking in your marketing.

*The best marketing is word of mouth. Free presentations at the pubic library and local bookstores will get you more workshop participants than paid advertisements.

*Be sensitive to the needs of your market. Writers are readers first. My business cards are bookmarks and my workshops use books-in-common.

*Owning a writing business has enabled me to toss another item into my bucket and offer the affirming but constructive workshop process I learned at the Spalding MFA program.

How did you go about becoming a writer? What’s the first thing you ever wrote? Do you recall the moment you knew you wanted to become a writer?

In high school, I wanted to be an English teacher, but my guidance counselor/gym teacher told me I was not smart enough (I did poorly in chemistry, geometry and volleyball). So I pursued social work as a profession, since I was naturally curious and an excellent listener. These skills now define a form of intelligence known as “Interpersonal Intelligence.” Many years later, when I applied for my MFA, I had already “graduated” from numerous Writer’s Digest classes, attended the Iowa Summer Writing Festival twice, and been a frequent flyer in adult education classes at Bellarmine, a local university. Still, I had neither the idea nor the desire to write a book. Now I have the idea and the desire but am distracted by the need to market my business and keep up my accounts.

My first writing was epistolary. I wrote letters to friends I’d left behind each time my father’s job moved us to another city, another country. I also wrote tragic poetry, such as “I dreamed I was a lovely child/with curly hair and all/I wore golden dresses/and I never dared to fall/I lived in a golden castle/which was so nice to see/but I awoke/and sadly dressed/to find I was just me” (Poems for Fathers 1963). As a social worker, I wrote research reports for my job in a university burn center. I behaved like a writer before I ever imagined I might be one!

Rejection helped me realize I was no longer simply writing, but had become A Writer. Family Circle Magazine rejected an article. They sent me a lovely form letter beginning that began with “Dear Writer.” I grieved for 24 hours until I realized the rejection letter was more confident of my status as “Dear Writer” than I was.

My first published nonfiction essay was “Releasing Rapunzel,” a first person account of the challenge of raising a teenage daughter. That is when I realized I wanted to write short pieces with a common touch and universal themes. Today, I consider myself an essayist, and am proud of it, though I recognize the truth in what E.B. White said: “Unlike the novelist, the poet, and the playwright, [the essayist] must be content in [the] self-imposed role of second-class citizen . . . to ramble about, content with living a free life and enjoying the satisfactions of a somewhat undisciplined existence.”

Where is your favorite spot to write? How often do you write a day and for how long? Are you one of those people who can sit down and write entire pages nonstop or do you labor over each line?

Where I write depends on what I am writing. To prewrite, I go to coffee shops where I can jazz-up on Americano and disappear into the thrum and thump of music and voice. For revision and final drafts, I write at my kitchen counter or in my writing studio, where I can burn a candle, drink hot tea and honey, and listen to soft jazz or classical music, depending on the tone of the essay. Three hours is the longest I can write. I do not produce worthwhile sentences until 30 minutes into a session. And I begin to blither at about 2.5 hours. I rarely go over it again.

Dorothy Parker famously said “I hate writing, I love having written.” Do you agree or disagree?

I love both processes: writing and having written! Writing is meditation. I especially treasure the hour or so after a good session, when the world is clarified because I notice everything, including my writing-induced euphoria. BTW, I love Dorothy Parker. Her quote that guides my life and writing is “Curiosity is the cure for boredom. There is no cure for curiosity.”

Speaking of famous writers, who are some of your favorites in the literary world?

I read fiction for pleasure, poetry for its inventive use of language, and essays as role models. I love essays that use language inventively while teaching me something. For fiction, my favorite classic authors are Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston and John Steinbeck. I read poetry anthologies, and write bad poetry, to improve my prose. My favorite essayists are James Baldwin, Loren Eiseley, Brian Doyle, Annie Dillard, EB White, and Phillip Lopate.

What do you do when you’re not busy writing or helping people develop their writing talents?

I am the President of the Board of Louisville Literary Arts. I enjoy leadership and event planning and solving problems. I served ten years as adjunct faculty at Spalding University and am taking a break from classroom teaching to do a better job with my business and my writing. I hope to publish a book of linked essays about the “coming of aging,” which will appeal to a market of spiritual baby boomer second-wave feminists with liberal political leanings.

You like to travel – can you tell us about one of your more interesting trips to date?

Mark Twain described the benefit of travel better than my best attempt to do so. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime” (Innocents Abroad/Roughing It). In the recent year, I have been on two long distance journeys and countless short distance journeys (each day is a journey). Last summer, I went to Moscow and St. Petersburg and this April, I traveled to London and Wales. I love reading and writing the travel essay (which is a personal version of travel, not an article on things to eat or see. The travel essay requires me to condense multi-sensory experience into a jaunt into particular experience and reflection. Visit my blog for a couple of short essays relating to travel, Minding the Gap and Moscow Underground.

Currently, I am working on an essay titled “Ancestry Happens,” about my compulsion to understand the drive to explore my Welsh ancestry.

And let’s close with our obligatory set of questions:

Have you read A Confederacy of Dunces, our literary inspiration here at Literary Labors (and the Occasional Cheese Dip)? Do you have a cheese dip recipe to share?

I admit the apostasy: I have not read A Confederacy of Dunces. My older brother read it when he was at Tulane in New Orleans. But I have never been tempted to read the cult classic. Maybe it’s because I neither like the Confederacy nor the term “dunce.” Or maybe it’s because there is so much to read and so little time!

Alas, I am a cheese dip snob. No Velveeta please. Nevertheless, I will share my mother’s pimento cheese recipe, which is more of a chunky spread than a smooth dip. As is typical of her recipes, there are very few exact amounts—rather, Mom suggested a bit of this or a dash of that. Season to taste! Mom used Lawry’s Seasoning Salt, which I think was MSG, but I prefer white pepper with white cheeses and black pepper with yellow/orange cheeses.

Photo by Robert Pieroni

Photo by Robert Pieroni

Priscilla’s Pimento Cheese

8 ounces grated good quality cheddar cheese (preferably sharp)
4-ounce jar of pimentos with juice.
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
2 tablespoons good quality mayonnaise
1 tablespoon horseradish
salt and pepper to enhance flavor

Mix in a food processor until the cheese is the right texture and taste, whatever that might be.

Thanks for joining us today, Kimberly!

Kimberly Crum, MSW, MFA has received five awards from the Society for Professional Journalists for her magazine writing. She has published essays in New Southerner and 94 Creations, and wrote/read commentary for WFPL in Louisville. Like most writers, Kimberly has supplemented her considerable writing income by serving as adjunct faculty. For ten years, she taught at Spalding University. Currently, Kimberly is the sole proprietor of Shape & Flow Writing Services at Mellwood Art & Entertainment Center in Louisville Kentucky. She teaches creative nonfiction writing workshops and engages writers in other genres to teach workshops at her studio. She strangely enjoys copyediting, which enables her to help transform overwritten academic manuscripts into clear prose that will appeal to a wider audience. In her spare time, when not managing her business, Kimberly is president of the board of Louisville Literary Arts. Read some of Kimberly’s blog essays, and contact her, through her website Shape and Flow or call her at 502-417-3424.