Monday, June 20, 2011

My First Time: Valerie Nieman

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today's guest is Valerie Nieman.  Her third novel, Blood Clay, was published last spring by Press 53.  She is the author of a collection of short stories, Fidelities, from West Virginia University Press, and a poetry collection, Wake Wake Wake.  Her fiction has appeared in many journals including The Kenyon Review, Green Mountains Review, Arts & Letters, and the recent anthology Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia.  She has received an NEA creative writing fellowship, two Elizabeth Simpson Smith prizes in fiction, and the Greg Grummer Prize in poetry. A native of Western New York State, she graduated from West Virginia University and the M.F.A. program at Queens University of Charlotte. She teaches writing at N.C. A&T State University and is the poetry editor for Prime Number.

My First Book Signing

In crayon-red letters an inch high, that inscription fills the front pages of the Little Golden Books that were my weekly portion, wheedled from my parents without much effort on our weekly trips to the Gold Star Market.

But Valerie Gail, why do you insist on this name?

It was not a matter of insistence; it was a matter of truth. Those letters in that arrangement were my name, when it was written down, and none other.

I would, with the arrival of school, learn to wrangle those letters into the standard form of my given name, in the same way that my ambidextrousness was discouraged and my proper hand given the work and the rights for which it was intended.

Years later learning that "Avig" is not a mere random arrangement of letters, but a word – Swedish for clumsy, awkward – and certainly that epithet marked my youth: too tall, too big, not knowing right from left, awkwardly turning and falling. Clumsy on land and clumsy among children. But in one of those books tagged by AVIG, I learned that the ugly duckling might, given enough time, shape itself into a swan.

If I ever set up my own publishing imprint, it would have to be Avig Books, in honor of the identity I assumed – found – as soon as I learned to make letters.

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