Women’s National Book Association Featured Member Interview – Leslie Kirk Campbell

Leslie Kirk Campbell is the inspiring author of the short fiction collection The Man with Eight Pairs of Legs and the founder of Ripe Fruit Writing in SF. She emphasizes the importance of one’s identity, freedom, and self will through her own personal experiences across her various works.

How would you describe yourself as an author? What inspires your creativity and writing style?

(LKC): I fell in love with language when I was 9 years old, the way a dancer falls in love with her body. I began as a poet, getting an MA in Poetry from San Francisco State and teaching poetry there as well as to children of all ages with California Poets in the Schools. Later in life, I evolved into a short fiction writer, which is where I relish using the art of languaging now. I care about people (my characters) but I also care about ideas: memory, freedom, violation, loving across unexpected borders. More than anything, I thrill at the orchestration of music that words can make. For 30 years, with Ripe Fruit Writing, the creative writing school I founded, I have trained adult students to know what a poet knows about language as a foundation for writing in any genre. Imagination. Perception. Love of Language. Courage. Compassion. Commitment. These are the six qualities that converge to create powerful writing that flows from the heart.

Tell us about your collection of short stories within your book “The Man with Eight Pairs of Legs”. What is the message behind each of these stories?

(LKC): The eight stories in “The Man with Eight Pairs of Legs,” my debut short fiction collection, written in my sixties, are the first stories I have ever written and are where I cut my teeth on fiction. (Note to seniors: it is never too late!) I simply wrote the stories I needed to write, most based on ideas, images, or dreams I had been carrying around with me for the 20 years I was raising my two sons. When gathering stories for a collection, I discovered it had been my body that had been talking to me the whole time. These stories explore ways our bodies are marked by memory, sometimes visibly – scars, bruises, tracks, tattoos – sometimes invisibly over generations. I am interested in stories that balance on a blade of danger, stories with characters who are pushed to the edge. My goal is to create stories that will engage the reader’s heart, mind and body simultaneously. I have no specific message. My hope is that my stories will deepen the compassion of the reader as they have deepened my own through the long process of writing them.

Aside from being a writer, what type of activities/hobbies do you participate in during your free time?

(LKC): I am a woman who loves ritual. My daily sacred place of ritual is my garden. On weekends, I often spend timeless hours tending to my flowers and plants. I talk to them, delight in the visitations of birds, butterflies, the occasional squirrel. I love to read literature daily – poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction – and, occasionally, to see a film that does on the screen what I ache for on the page. I love teaching my students. I fall in love with them and delight in the true, language-loving pieces they write in my Greenhouse of the Imagination. I consider all my time to be free time because I am passionate about everything I do. My friendships, both with friends and family, are my lodestone. My identity as a mother is a primary one.

Panelist Leslie Kirk Campbell at the Podium

How have your personal stories/experiences shaped your short fiction collection in regards to freedom, identity and self-worth?

(LKC): I believe in the ‘writing faith,’ that we always write what we need to write. What my body has experienced, my dreams, my emotional landscape, the people I have known, the places I have been, all gird the stories I write. Writing is an excavation. I have to pull everything out. I come from bi-cultural, bi-regional parents. I am bisexual. I have lived in many places. We hold multitudes. And I, too, am many things. All of who I am converges in my art so that I am most myself when I am absorbed in arranging words on the page. When I received my MFA in fiction from Bennington at 62, I finally felt AUTHORIZED. Having an award-winning book and reading my stories to audiences across the country, has solidified my identity as an artist and made me whole.

What are your plans for the future? Anything we should look forward to such as new book releases?

(LKC): I am deep into working on a second short story collection, Free Radicals. I am fascinated by people whose lives are guided by unusual passions, moved by the bonds between parents and their children, intrigued by mortality, and curious about the meaning of freedom in its many forms. I am exploring these themes in the stories I am currently writing.

Is there anything else you would like to add?


Written by Devon Lee for WBNA SF Chapter. Link to the article.