Today in Seven Questions, we talk with Ecotone postgraduate fellow Sophia Stid. Sophia recently received the 2021 Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Prize, from Calyx magazine, and the 2022 Sally Buckner Emerging Writers’ Fellowship, from the North Carolina Writers’ Network. Her micro-chapbook Whistler’s Mother was published by Bull City Press in October 2021. Her work has also been supported by fellowships from Vanderbilt University and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and her recent work can be found in Best New Poets, Poetry Daily, and Pleiades.
Sophia has worked on Ecotone for the past two-plus years, and was recently promoted to associate editor. Her keen editorial sensibility, and her equally keen attention to both place and the artists and writers who consider it, are a gift to the magazine. Though some on Ecotone’s staff may quibble with her choice, in the lightning round below, of pie over cake, her editorial and writerly decision making is indisputably exemplary—wise, nuanced, thoughtful, kind. We are lucky to have her as part of the Ecotone team. Editor Anna Lena Phillips Bell interviewed her in fall 2021.
As you begin your third year with Ecotone, what are you excited about in your work?
I’m really excited about the Climate Issue, which we’re putting together right now—and Ecotone 30, which will reach subscribers and newsstands in the next week. The questions we’re holding as an editorial team are difficult and important: how to walk with hope and grief and rage at once, how to work for change while mourning what we’ve already lost. Carrying these questions in community with our contributors has already shaped my thinking and my living.
What’s something you’ve discovered in editing that surprised you or helped your own writing?
I’m surprised by how often it seems that when I have questions for a piece of writing as an editor, the work itself will hold a phrase or idea that guides the editorial team through those questions. I’ve learned so much from that about trusting the work itself to teach me how to write it.
Your debut chapbook, Whistler’s Mother, is just out from the wonderful Inch and Bull City Press. Could you tell us a little about how the book came to be?
During the pandemic, I’ve spent a lot of time walking around my neighborhood, and a lot of time thinking about grief, historical memory, and what it means to live in places and make art in languages that are both beloved and entangled with legacies of harm. The chapbook grew out of those walks and those questions. I’ve really missed shared public spaces, so I tried to create a feeling of shared space in the experience of reading the essay, by making something that could be mapped. I’m interested in the process of site-specific writing, as drawn from the Biblical practice of dislocated exegesis—the idea that where you read scriptures can change how you read them—and so I wrote the essay in public, on location at the places I was writing about.
If you could spend a year writing anywhere in the world, where would it be?
The Mojave Desert in southern California.
Tell us about a favorite edit (a query big or small) you’ve received on your work.
A mentor helped me once with an unwieldy essay by having me write a version of it as a sonnet. Doing so totally unlocked that essay for me—I try a shadow sonnet now whenever I feel stuck on something.
In your poem “Prayer II,” winner of the 2021 Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Prize, you write, “Whatever prayer is, / whatever it can make of us, I want it to do that to me.” How do faith and theology intersect with your creative work?
I studied the medieval mystics in college, and took courses in my university’s divinity school throughout my MFA—engaging with faith and theology shapes both why I write and how I write. A favorite theologian of mine, Walter Burghardt, describes prayer as “a long, loving look at the real.” In my writing, I’m always trying to look a little longer, and with more love.
What emerging authors are you most excited about?
I really love Anni Liu’s work, and can’t wait for her collection Border Vista, coming out from Persea Books in 2022. It was wonderful to feature a poem from Anni in the Garden Issue. I’ve also been reading (and rereading) Desiree C. Bailey’s first book, What Noise Against the Cane, which I admire so much.
Morning or night? Both (I like the margins of a day!)
Coffee or tea? Tea, with lots of milk
Typing or longhand? It depends on what I’m writing!
Music or quiet? Quiet
Text or call? Call
Cake or pie? Pie!
Mountains or sea? Mountains, especially the Sierra Nevada in California
Bookmark or dog-ear? Dog-ear—I like a lived-in book