Published March 7, 2021

Kerri Arsenault, author of Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains, is a book critic, book editor at Orion magazine, and contributing editor at Lit Hub. Her work has appeared in Freeman’s, the Boston Globe, Down East, the Paris Review Daily, and The Washington Post, among others. Mill Town is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Leonard Prize, to be announced March 25. Learn more at Kerri-Arsenault.com.

Get to know Kerri in this Q&A and then join us on Saturday, March 20 at 7 PM ET as part of the all-virtual 2021 Virginia Festival of the Book to hear her discuss her work in Environmental Injustice: Reckoning with American Waste.

Festival: What motivated you to become a writer? 

Arsenault: Teachers. In high school, Sally Jones, Eric Howes, and Clayton Blood told me I was a good writer and pushed me along. At Beloit College, Raymond Carver, who was the Lois Mackey chair at our school, liked my writing, therefore I began to like it too. Twenty something years later, in my MFA program at The New School, John Freeman, Zia Jaffrey, and Suzannah Lessard encouraged me to carry on. 

Who or what are some of your creative influences?

Photography, interior design, gardening, fashion, skiing, running, cooking. I’m a very physical and visual person and these interests speak to me on visual and physical planes. They are also things that involve the processes of editing and visualization, which are vital to writing and to my imagination.

What was the most difficult part about writing your book?

Writing it. Every. Single. Moment. And explaining what it was about as I was writing it.

Do you have any sources of inspiration that you come back to while writing?

Slow Violence and Environmentalism of the Poor by Rob Nixon, Dictionary of the Undoing by John Freeman, The Peregrine by J.A. Baker, American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell, Shame and Wonder by David Searcy, and everything by Martha Gellhorn and Peter Schjeldahl. Also, Eric Vuillard’s book, The Order of the Day. All of these books are physical, the writing muscular and meaningful.

What impact or takeaway do you hope your work will have for readers? 

What would the world be like if we changed our demands?

Describe how a book changed your life or perspective.

Reading The Jungle by Upton Sinclair in high school made me want to read and write about things that matter. Plus it’s so visceral!

What is something that you’ve read recently and would recommend to others?

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan. I am obsessed with O’Nan’s obsession about detailing the obsessive, ordinary, decent tasks of a day’s work. 

What are you working on next?

A biography of someone I’ve not yet met.

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