Kathleen Stocking; writer, teacher, traveler, and Northern Michigan native. Her life is a collection of amazing experiences in incredible places. She has been a teacher to hardened criminals and vulnerable children around the globe and she shares her experiences in her autobiographical books. Lake Country: A Series of Journeys, Letters from Leelanau, and her latest The Long Arc of the Universe detail in essay form her experiences and the people in her life. Her life is moving, inspiring, and surprisingly familiar. Although she travels the world and makes an effort to see and experience as much as possible, Northern Michigan has always kept her “grounded.”
How did you start your literary journey? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Not sure how to answer this because I think that, at least in my case, I didn’t start my literary journey, as such, but it was more that it started me, or maybe the way to say that is that it was “in me” and after a while I recognized it. At that point, maybe when I was about nine or ten years old, I began to see that this desire to express in words, a deep need to do so, is what was called being a writer.
You’ve been to and seen some incredible things. Where do you find the strength to face so much human suffering?
Well, a lot of people have more strength than I have to face a lot of human suffering: Doctors without Borders comes to mind, people working in refugee camps. People who work in hospitals, schools, prisons in this country and all across the world. A neonatal intensive care nurse, how does she do her job, day after day? And, of course, soldiers and policemen. Somehow, in each person there must be inner reserves of strength, maybe from a good childhood where they were loved and they know it, or they find that helping others is its own reward, that they are doing something to make things better, and that makes them feel good and gives them the strength to continue doing the work. And for the writer, someone with a lot of curiosity like me, there’s always the chance to understand something difficult. But, that said, people need to have a break from ceaseless trouble and I found that by returning to my home in Lake Leelanau from time to time, I could rest and build up my reserves, and go out again.
What was the best teaching moment you’ve ever had?
The child in the homeless shelter who didn’t speak for weeks and weeks, because of trauma, and then one day wrote the most beautiful poem about a star in the night sky. I’ve never forgotten it.
Who is your favorite author?
There’s more than one. Here are a few: Shakespeare, Nabokov, Walt Whitman, D. H. Lawrence, Marguerite Duras, James Baldwin, Jim Harrison. I admire writers who have an intuitive sense of the way images and events in nature create emotions. I admire writers who have moral courage.
Have you ever considered writing fiction?
All the time. But fiction takes more time than I’ve ever had. I would like to write a mystery and put in it all the things I had to leave out of the nonfiction. In nonfiction you can’t use certain material because it might put someone in harm’s way or sometimes, even though you know something to be true, you can’t write about it because you don’t have corroborating evidence or a second witness. But in a fictional mystery story I could talk about the things I left out.
What book is on your bed stand right now? (What are you reading right now?)
I’m reading, “The Story of America,” by Jill Lepore. She’s so logical and witty and her research is extensive. It’s wonderful. Nonfiction. I read, “The South,” by Paul Theroux a while ago and it was great.
With which Dewey Decimal number or section do you identify? (your books rest squarely in the 900s – 910, 917, and 977.)
I love the whole library and at different times have read a lot of fiction: Somerset Maugham, Mark Twain, Thomas Wolfe, John Steinbeck, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gorky, Ibsen, Malraux, V. S. Naipaul. Many, too many to name.