Oyster River Pages: Who are the writers who have made you who you are?
Alexandria Barkmeier: Hemingway is a huge influence in how I evaluate my own and others' writing, so his work is consistently front of mind. I love that Jhumpa Lahiri's writing maintains that measured minimalism, but also has a more recognizably deliberate lyrical quality—I'm also a fan of the structure of her stories, of people sorting themselves out around or after major events that themselves aren't necessarily the focus of the stories. I don't think my work would be what it is if I had not read Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep at least 10 times (and counting). And I will always, unapologetically, be a fan girl for Dave Eggers.
ORP: What are the lenses that shape your worldview?
AB: For the most part, I believe in the fundamental goodness of people and I think that writing is often a way for me to try to take apart challenging personalities and understand why and how they behave the way they do. There are periods in life where I've really questioned if I still believe that people are inherently good, and in those times, I've found writing to be far less interesting and therapeutic.
ORP: What’s the most important thing you’ve seen lately?
AB: The off-film drama notwithstanding, I thought Manchester by the Sea was the most stunning film I've seen in a long time, if not ever. I walked out of the theater thinking that it was the novel I've been spending my whole life trying to write. Its thematic question on the limits of social forgiveness and our forgiveness of ourselves was brilliant, but everything from the cinematography to the character development to the spot-on dialogue was inspiring.
ORP: What’s your least favorite word? Why?
AB: I have less logomisia (I had to look that up) than most people I know, so there aren't many words that grate on me. I have visceral reactions to words that become short-cuts in social observations, but I think those are more political than literary preferences!
ORP: What’s your favorite thing that you’ve created?
AB: A few years ago I was doing some writing exercises and wrote an obituary for a dog we had when I was growing up.
ORP: What do you want to read more of in the world?
AB: I want to be surprised by everything I read in the world! I've definitely grown weary of two persistent place-based narratives in "literary" fiction: The New York Story and The Simple Small Town Story. However, I keep picking up those books, so maybe the authors know me better than I know myself.
ORP: How do you pay it forward?
AB: Maybe less than I should day-to-day, but I've spent most of my career in education and advocacy, specifically for low-income children. I'm also working to understand how best to use my privilege to protect and advocate for members of our community who don't have the same access to resources and aren't given the same entry to conversation. I'm also a non-practicing lawyer and want to start better leveraging that tool in my free time.
ORP: What is the space that has shaped you the most?
AB: I lived in the same city from when I was born until I went to college, and my parents still live there, which must have informed a lot of things about myself I don't even think about. Boulder aside, spending so much of my young adulthood in DC, especially during a particular political moment that felt really engaging for young people, also very much informed my passions and perspectives. Similarly, living in a city like DC that has so much wealth and power but so many people living profoundly powerless lives is a good lesson in the fundamental social challenges we face as a culture.
ORP: You’ve just written your autobiography. What’s the title?
AB: I Hope I Earned These Pages.
Alexandria Barkmeier is a writer, former educator, and public policy professional living in Washington, DC. Originally from Colorado, she has bumped around the country accumulating graduate degrees as well as a trusted black lab named Gizmo. She is currently finishing a novel. Read her story "The House of the Man You Do Not Know" from Issue 1 here.