Oyster River Pages: Who are the writers who have made you who you are?
Chelsea Bartlett: My life changed the first time I read Alice Munro. Before that, I hadn't known how much could be achieved through subtlety, the depth of emotion that could be reached even in the quietest, most unassuming moments. From there, I discovered writers like Monica Wood and Sarah Braunstein, who mine those moments for all that they're worth, and I knew that I wanted to be able to do that too. It changed my writing and the way I look at the world.
ORP: What are the lenses that shape your worldview?
CB: First and foremost, compassion and love. After that, art and craft.
ORP: What’s the most important thing you’ve read or seen lately?
CB: I’m taking the sentimental route with this one. I’ve recently read several of my peers’ theses, and on top of the fact that they’re all writing very well about important things, it’s also important to me that I read my friends’ work and support them however I can. Community is essential, I believe, to life in general, but especially to my own life.
ORP: What’s your least favorite word? Why?
CB: “Cellar.” I don’t like hard S sounds, and maybe it’s the Maine in me but I’m not the biggest fan of words that end in R, so “cellar,” paired with its creepy meaning, really rubs me the wrong way.
ORP: What’s your favorite thing that you’ve created?
CB: I’m happy to say that this changes a lot. Right now, I’m most proud of my thesis for my MFA program. I recently graduated and I put many hours and a lot of effort into that body of work. But probably soon, I’ll have some new story that I feel is the best work I’ve ever done, and sometime after that, another new one. If you keep working, you never stop getting better.
ORP: What do you want to read more of in the world?
CB: I want to read more voices from marginalized people: people of color, LGBTQ+ people, disabled and chronically ill people, Muslims--the list goes on. I think it's our responsibility to raise those voices up and listen.
ORP: How do you pay it forward?
CB: I was lucky enough to attend a seminar by the brilliant poet Amanda Johnston, and she said that as writers we have a responsibility to hone our craft, to learn as much as we can and master it. Because the better we are at writing, the better we are at communicating--and we must communicate. We must raise our voices. I'm still learning, still honing my craft, and in the meantime, I try to use my skills to help other writers develop and grow and get their stories out into the world.
ORP: What is the space that has shaped you the most?
CB: I never knew how much a product of my environment I am until I left for a while. After college, I lived in Orlando for about a year and I found myself missing home--Maine--so badly. The coast, the sea, the woods, the mountains had all shaped me so much more than I would have guessed and I longed for them. Now I know that this area made me who I am.
ORP: You’ve just written your autobiography. What’s the title?
CB: “Sharks, Short Stories, and Other Creatures from the Void.”
Chelsea Bartlett is a recent graduate of the Stonecoast MFA program on the beautiful coast of Maine, where she was born and raised. She believes in the magic of quiet moments and well-told stories. You can read more about her and her work on her blog at chelseadgbartlett.tumblr.com. Read her story "Trunk of Crows" from Issue 1.