Life after fame: McCorkle continues to impress

It is a rare writer that can give the reader the feeling that a story is meant personally for her. And yet, whether it be rocking the Paramount Theater last March with singer-songwriter Matreca Berg, or simply reading her words on the page with her signature Southern twang, acclaimed fiction writer Jill McCorkle creates a storytelling experience as intimate as friends sitting at the kitchen table.

Catching up with her in Hillsborough, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband and "a bunch of animals,” McCorkle is happy to discuss the contents of her refrigerator, her admiration for Carson McCullers' The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and her pipe dream of being an equestrian. 

McCorkle is the author of five novels and four collections of short stories. Her fiction and essays have appeared in nearly every prestigious American literary journal and have been collected in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Essays, and New Stories From the South.  She currently teaches in the MFA program at North Carolina State, and in Bennington College's low residency MFA program, and at the Sewanee Summer Writer's Conference. 

Jill McCorkle's fifth novel, Life After Life, comes out this March just in time for the Virginia Festival of the Book, and it takes up a deeply personal subject matter. Inspired by the death of McCorkle’s father and the respect that she gained for the hospice workers that tended to him during the last months of his life, the new book highlights the complexities of aging, the responsibilities we carry for elderly family members, and a search for dignity and peace. 

"I am so filled with admiration for people who are focused on end of life care," says McCorkle, who also notes that she's always been interested in highlighting the stories of people who often go unnoticed in our world. 

"What I have wanted to do, especially in this novel, is take all of these people who are, for whatever reason, slightly on the fringe, and bring them to the center."

And if you needed any further persuasion to take note of her work, several of her stories, along with those of fellow writer Lee Smith, serve as the basis of an off-Broadway musical titled Good 'Ol Girls. Girls is created by country music super producers Matraca Berg and Marshall Chapman, and, says McCorkle, will be coming soon to Abingdon's Barter Theater.

McCorkle's visit to Charlottesville is just one stop on her long tour to celebrate Life After Life.  But the more you learn about Jill McCorkle, the more you want to believe she's writing just for you.

Age: 54
What do you like most about Charlottesville?
I so enjoyed just walking on the Downtown Mall.  Also eating at the Colonnade Club on UVA's campus– it's such a beautiful campus.
People would be surprised to know about you:
My husband and I got a donkey for a wedding present. 
Proudest accomplishment? Finishing a novel that I worked on for years.
People find most annoying about you
: I apologize too much.
Whom do you admire? Public school teachers who give it all they've got.
Favorite book? Depends on when you ask– The Great Gatsby, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, or Winesburg, Ohio
Subject that causes you to rant? Zombies, vampires, and shapeshifters.
Biggest 21st-century thrill? Being able to easily search and call up old television episodes. 
Biggest 21st-century creep out? Too much big brother monitoring. I learned they can tell you if you've read a book you downloaded or where you stopped.
What do you drive? Used Prius.
What are you listening to in your car: Tom Waits: The Early Years and Marshall Chapman's soon-to-be-released Blaze of Glory
Next journey? Buffalo, NY
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? I'm the biggest goody two-shoes in the world. 
Regret: Being too cautious, not doing something I later wished I did.  I’m much more adventurous in my head. 
Favorite comfort food:
Black bean soup.
Always in your refrigerator: OJ with extra pulp.
Must-see TV: I used to be a total addict and no longer am. Really like 30 Rock and Modern Family.
Describe a perfect day:
A normal day at home with no place to go.
Walter Mitty fantasy: My dreams of being a ballerina died years ago. Recently I took up horseback riding. But for the first time in my life, I was the worst person in class. I'd like to just saddle up and gallop across the pasture. No fear or inhibition.
Most embarrassing moment:
I talked about bird imagery in a poetry class thinking the teacher had said "swan," but she had said "swine."
Best advice you ever got? Be yourself– if they don't like you just as you are, then you don't want to be there. 
Favorite bumper sticker? "When in Rome Do As You Done in Milledgeville." I had that on my last car and met a lot of people from Georgia and a lot of Flannery O'Connor fans.  

Jill McCorkle will appear on a panel titled "Fiction: Tales of Life and Death" at 8pm on Thursday, March 21, at the UVA Harrison Institute / Small Special Collections. 

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