Interview with Melissa Ballard

What is a current project you are working on?

I’m working my way through two file drawers of records about my ancestors,
shaping stories about the women and my connection to them.

What is the one piece of writing advice, good or even bad, that you have received that has impacted you the most?

More than once, I’ve been told not to wrap up my essays with a bow. There are
still times when I need to remind myself, so this article by Allison Williams is
always nearby when I’m revising and editing:

What are some of the greatest influences upon your writing, whether other writers or outside influences?

I’ve always loved to read, so books are my first influence. I didn’t know any
writers when I was growing up, and never imagined I could be one. When I
started to meet “real” writers, I was in awe. I still am. I’ve been lucky to take
classes with Liz Rosenberg, Rebecca McClanahan, and Dinty W. Moore, just to
drop a few names.

Do you have a favorite place to write, or are there any habits, inspirations, or rituals that help you?

I use a laptop, but I’m more comfortable working on a stable surface, so I write
mostly at my desk in my home office. The only distractions are the birdfeeder,
the internet, and myself. I keep a notebook by my reading spot in the living
room, and usually carry one with me when I go out, just in case I need to jot
something down before I forget.

I endeavored to teach time management to college students for seventeen years before I retired, and I had a rigid schedule for myself that included writing time. Now,
I’m trying to be more flexible. I make sure I walk, meditate and read most days,
and I try to write five times each week. I keep track on my calendar, but I don’t
do it at the same time or for a specific amount of time.

Can you recommend one book that you think everyone should read and tell us why?

I can recommend a book, Words Under the Words by Naomi Shihab Nye. Her use
of language is precise and compact. She focuses on the smallest details, but
speaks to major themes. Better to spend time reading her poems than my words
about her, which cannot do her work justice.

Your essay “Still, Life” deals with motherhood and ancestry and how entire lives can be erased by time. Your research and writing keeps alive what you could find of your ancestors. If all else about you were to be lost by time, what piece of your story would you most want your descendants to rediscover and pass on?

I am a first-generation college graduate, and my family and I have established
two scholarships for first-gen students at my alma mater, Cleveland State
University. One is in honor of my aunt, and the other is in my parents’ names.
None of them had a chance to go to college, but all three supported and
encouraged me.