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Daring debut

SMSU English professor introduces her first book

July 29, 2011
By Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent

Those who have read Judy Wilson's debut novel have called it "unforgiving, exquisitely hewn, pitch perfect, immensely human, generous beyond measure" and "unforgettable, funny and brave."

Wilson, a professor of English at Southwest Minnesota State University, recently had "Trespass," a book of short stories published.

In past years, Wilson has had several short stories in literary journals and has won several awards for her writing, which includes the Southern Literary Festival Award for Best Short Fiction, the Joan Johnson Writing Award, the Henfield Foundation's Transatlantic Review Award and a Truman Capote Fellowship.

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Southwest Minnesota State University English professor Judy Wilson recently released a book of short stories titled “Trespass.”
Wilson calls herself a realist and that her work has been called “dark”?more than once.

Short stories have always been Wilson's forte, but she's currently wrapping up a novel she plans to have finished by the end of summer.

"And I'm feeling really good about that," she said.

Wilson said she writes literary fiction - hopefully thought-provoking and resonant pieces about ordinary, working class characters caught up in extraordinary moments or thoughts or feelings.

"At base, I'm a realist," she said. "My work has been referred to as 'dark' more than once, but I never intend to create something dark. I always intend to test my characters, to see what they're made of, to see what's possible, to see what would happen if something out of the ordinary happened." As a writer she feels she's constantly changing the empathetic response of the reader, Wilson said.

"Trespass" is a collection of 13 stories, which includes ones about a young girl's reaction to the death of a boy she loved to one on what happens when a couple's baby is born with a hereditary birth defect.

Wilson has always said that what inspires many writers is something that bothers the mind.

"I equate it to that little grain of sand that gets stuck inside the oyster, irritating the thing so much that it produces something in reaction to it," she said. "The end result, of course, is a pearl - a lovely little thing."

So the real question for her, Wilson said, is what bothers her mind, such as social justice issues, existentialism, spiritual life outside of organized religion, imbalance of power wherever it exists - in the home, at work, in an extended family, in a country or the problematics of love.

"Tomorrow, I might come up with a whole other list," she said.

With her teaching schedule at SMSU, Wilson said it's tough during the fall and spring semesters to do her own writing because she's nurturing young writers on campus as well as the work of other writers in producing Yellow Medicine Review. The Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art and Thought was started in spring 2007 as a result of a Difficult Dialogues grant from the Ford Foundation. It is published twice a year and includes high quality fiction, poetry and essays by indigenous people from all over the world.

"Both teaching and editing Yellow Medicine Review are entirely rewarding experiences," she said. "We have some very gifted students in the creative writing program on campus. It's garnered a strong reputation and that reputation brings us some very talented writers. I'm one of the luckiest people I know because I get to surround myself every day with the thing I'm most passionate about."

But in the last couple of years, Wilson said she's gotten a "tiny bit" more selfish with her time and began scheduling in writing days in the midst of her work week.

"Still the bulk of my writing is done over the summer months and other breaks," she said. "Once the fall semester starts, that's a good time for the revision process and for tending to the business side of writing."

One of the top responses she gets to "Trespass," Wilson said, is "where do you get these stories? Do you know these people?"

"And I'm thrilled when I hear that because that's the sign of a job well done, when you can make the reader believe completely in the realistic nature of the creation," Wilson said. "They can't imagine that someone as ordinary as me can come up with these stories, they must be real. I hate to disappoint, but I'm not writing non-fiction here. This is stuff I make up. It may have a seed of reality to it."



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