Laura Hulthen Thomas, 48, lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the United States but born on the East Coast. Laura writes fiction and essays, a number of which have appeared in literary journals. As well as being a teacher of fiction in an undergraduate creative writing program at the University of Michigan’s Residential College. Laura has a MFA degree from Warren Wilson College. ASLI chose Laura’s submission because it was so moving as well as us feeling like that the piece needed to be given a bigger voice, an audience and a platform. The importance of discussing sexual assault is great, with artists such as Laura engaging in these important conversations, YOU the audience have the opportunity to share this and be part of the mission to raise awareness. So we wanted to find out more from Laura:
What motivated you to deal with the subject of sexual assault in your art?
“Several of my close friends and family members have experienced sexual assault. In some cases the crime was never prosecuted. I wanted to write about the profound ways violent crimes against the body alter one’s relationship with the world after the body heals. I’m motivated to call attention to injustice, but I also want to explore how assault changes the body and self in ways the survivor well understands, and also in ways the survivor may not fully realize in their struggle to feel safe again.”
Tell us why you chose this submission?
“I wrote “The Warding Charm” to honour a family member who was sexually assaulted as a child. I wanted to give this brave person a fictional world in which taking revenge upon the assailant is a possibility. I wanted to write about what it’s like to try to take away power from the criminal and the crime while coping with feelings of powerlessness and loneliness, especially when the assailant is never prosecuted.”
Here is Laura Thomas’s Submission: The Warding Charm
Why have you chosen the medium you use for your art?
“I’ve always been a writer. I love stories, both writing them and being deeply immersed in them as a reader. For me, stories are the most vivid way to live another’s experience of the world.”
What is your process when creating?
“I try to write a first draft as quickly as I am able to, and then I investigate, ask questions, find the moments between characters, and the places they inhabit, that have restless energy. I return to those moments and places and follow their restlessness through many drafts.”
Who are you influenced by? What inspired you and your art?
“In school I was the typical English “junkie” who found memorizing prepositions soothing and cared a bit too much about comma placement and sentence structure. Being an avid reader and language lover first inspired me to write. Being completely fascinated by other people, and what people do, keeps me writing. Writers whom I admire are too many to name, and have influenced me in so many ways. I just finished the novel Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I am so admiring of her crisp, beautiful prose and the way she weaves multiple narratives together to tell a story. Definitely my latest influence.”
What does feminism mean to you and do you consider yourself to be a feminist?
Of course I’m a feminist. Feminism to me means championing human rights, promoting and fighting for women’s social, economic, physical and artistic health, and loving and supporting one another.
What made you want to get involved with our non-profit ART SAVES LIVES INTERNATIONAL mission?
I saw ASLI’s call for submissions about creative work that explores violence against women, among other themes, for the Celebration of Women Month. I loved the call’s mission and wanted to share “The Warding Charm” to celebrate and honour women who have survived violence.
Do you feel women have to conform to social norms and stereotypes to be taken seriously? Do you have any experiences of this?
“I feel like I have chosen to conform to some social norms and stereotypes to achieve certain goals in my life; certainly in my family life, and in my professional life as well. I also feel that my choice to conform has held me back from taking artistic and life risks that might have gifted me with a deeper and more prolific creative life. These risks perhaps might have led to more professional success as well. I’ll never know. But I don’t think a woman has to conform in order to be taken seriously. I know women, artists and otherwise, who are bold nonconformists and achieve wonderful, great things. In fact, I think one must have a streak of nonconformity to create these achievements. There are consequences to conforming, and consequences to not conforming. In the end, I feel it’s a matter of what your goals are. Certainly for women without economic means, power, or independence, conformity is a matter of survival. I’ve been there, too.”
Do you think that women and men are equal in today’s societies around the world? Have you any experience of this?
“No, I think that’s the goal societies must keep working towards. I feel overwhelmed at times by the ways discrimination and violence against women are institutionalized in every society, according to the particular society’s history and social norms. I also feel great hope when I work with my college students who feel strongly about human rights and are actively working towards equality in their studies, their activism, and in their everyday conduct.”
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for etc…..?
“I am passionate about the teaching of writing and literature. I dedicate much of my time to my college teaching. I am also passionate about freedom in the literary arts. My latest project to that end is a regional book fair and conference, Voices of the Middle West, which brings together authors, independent presses and literary journals to celebrate a free and diverse publishing industry. Indy presses and journals in the US are most literary writers’ lifeline. The big publishing houses have merged into conglomerates, and are simply not taking risks on new or even in some cases established literary authors.”
What does the statement ART SAVES LIVES mean to you and has art in anyway “saved” your life in any way?
“Art has saved my life all my life. Whenever I have stopped writing or been too busy to write I have felt unmoored. There are fears and joys I can only understand through making fiction. There are memories and impulses I can only explore in fiction. I have students and friends who cope with violence, uncertainty, and fear through writing. I feel so strongly about art saving lives that I teach a university freshman writing class called “Saving the World with a Story.” My kids are involved in music and theatre through their school. I tell them that no matter what, they need to be involved in the arts their whole lives. The arts nurture our intellect and our souls, and provide ways to connect with others no matter where you go in the world.”
How can your art be used to create change and is this something you want for your art?
“I would like my reader to experience and empathize with the changes my characters hope to create in their worlds and selves against the odds, and sometimes against their own natures. I would like my reader to be inspired to think about the odds against her for achieving the changes she wants in the world, and in herself, and perhaps decide to fight against those odds.”
What are your goals with your art?
“To continue to write fiction, and to continue to connect with readers. Being able to write is a privilege I’m grateful for; my goal is simply to keep finishing stories.”
What is your next project or piece that you are working on?
“I’m writing a novel set in St. Petersburg, Russia, about a professor visiting from the States who falls in love with a political activist-artist and must decide whether to abandon his comfortable life back home when he becomes unwittingly caught up in her protest movement.”
And is there anything you would like to add to your interview?
“Thank you for bringing my voice to ASLI’s Celebration of Women. I am really honoured to be contributing.”
Find out more about Laura Thomas
Lecturer and Program Head, Creative Writing and Literature
Facebook is Laura Hulthen Thomas