Digressing with Sheila Kohler

We’re lucky to have Sheila Kohler. She’s a brilliant storyteller, a mordant observer of human character, and a real tough cookie. And I mean that in the kindest way possible. She truly believes that the best thing we can do is teach one another what we know — as if perhaps the true vocation of the storyteller, from the days of cavemen onwards, has been to remind each other of what we’ve learned through this crazy trip through life that we get a chance to travel. Don’t eat raw pork. Don’t eat the yellow snow. Never have sex with a person who has more problems than you do. That sort of thing.

She’s really quite a star. Sheila’s work as been anthologized by Best American Short Stories, been translated into myriad languages from Dutch and French to Japanese and Hebrew, and her essays have been published in magazines as disparate as O Magazine, American Scholar and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. She has been teaching creative writing at Princeton since 2008. Her most recent novel, Open Secrets, was published by Penguin a year ago, and is her 13th book.

Sheila favors my podcast (and listeners) with bon mots on how she thinks about her audience, the business of being published by small and large presses, and how to establish connections with agents and publishers. I say she’s a tough cookie because when you hear her voice, you hear the steel in her backbone, her determination, and her refusal to suffer fools. But underlying it all is a basic human decency that moved me enormously. “One of our jobs,” she said, “is to share what we’ve learned.”

Which is exactly what she does in this podcast, for the sake of other writers.

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