By Meaghan Menzel
Julie Marie Wade is the author of several books of poetry and nonfiction including “When I Was Straight,” “Small Fires,” “Postage Due,” and “Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures.” Wade visited Washington College’s Rose O’Neil Literary House on Thursday, Oct. 2 to give a reading for the Sophie Kerr Lecture Series: Living Writers.
According to her website, Wade was born in Seattle and currently lives in Dania Beach, Fla. with her wife Angie Griffin. She has a Master of Arts in English from Western Washington University, a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Humanities from the University of Louisville. She has been awarded numerous prizes such as the Chicago Literary Award in Poetry in 2004 and two Dorothy Stargent Rosenberg Poetry Prizes for 2006 and 2010. She now teaches in the graduate creative writing program at Florida International University.
Wade got really into autobiographical writing when she was in college. “I had a really great teacher sophomore year in college,” she said. “I had always said ‘I’m a poet,’ and I felt like that was really safe because we were told ‘well you can’t presume that what poets put in their poems is true’ even though for me it usually was… but it was this sort of a safe space of the persona and the speaker… Then I signed up for this class called Autobiographical Writing with David Seal, and he said… ‘Don’t worry, I’ll never show your parents anything you write.’” From there, Wade said, “It gave me this enormous permission to start writing,” and it became safe for her to write more autobiographically.
Associate Professor James Hall introduced Wade at the reading. “I first met Julie when I was the nonfiction editor of the ‘Gulf Coast,’ a journal published by the University of Houston where I was then a student,” Hall said. “She won our first nonfiction contest judged by Mark Doty, and then I asked her to be on a panel I was putting together for the associated writing program’s annual conference. That was a panel of poets and nonfiction writers. Julie was the youngest person on that impressive panel of writers, but she impressed me even more by speaking eloquently and extemporaneously from only a few notes.”
After the introduction, Wade read from her book of poetry “When I was Straight.” This book delves into different images and metaphors that describe Wade’s adolescence and homosexuality. She said the writing process included “collecting thoughts, experiences, pieces of my life, and I thought… that these might end up in an essay… I had sort of an idea of what was going to happen, and then I realized that I wanted to put together this series as kind of an homage to one of my favorite poets, Denise Duhamel.”
Wade said that one of Duhamel’s poems is titled, “When I was a Lesbian,” and Duhamel’s work inspired her poetry, which then started “mushrooming” into other poems.
The other piece Wade read for the event was an essay from her book “Small Fires” that tells the story of her nomination for the Ms. Preteen America Pageant. In this essay, she describes how her mother puts her on a strict diet and rigorous workout schedule for this pageant. It will earn her scholarships if she wins, but it will also make her envied by girls and desired by boys. However, Wade explains in this essay how she does not really want or care about any of this. All she really wants from the pageant is the bouquet of roses.
“I never became Ms. America, and I never became Ms. Preteen America, and I did not become Ms. Teen America either,” Wade said. “But it is depicted in the book in sort of that lyric essay way… not just that it was obvious that I wasn’t going to win this thing but in the fact that is surprising to me but also kind of happy for me to discover myself at 13 that really the biggest thing was I just wanted those roses.”
Wade is currently working on a new project. “I think it’s going to be called ‘The Regulars’ and is another series of essays that of course has to do with family, etc.” She said her goal is to find a new way to write the same themes she’s been writing up till now.
Wade’s lyrical essays overall explore her past and identity. She still writes following Seal’s advice that you just have to “go for the grit” and “unearth everything.”