An In-Depth Interview with Spencer Wise

Spencer Wise Steps Up

A joy to read from the very first paragraph.
One of the few short story collections ever to win the Pulitzer.
As debuts go, one can’t do much better than to have one of the best of year.


Your new book, “The Emperor of Shoes”, is a work of fiction. And yet it is based closely on your life. What do you think about the difference (or lack thereof) between fiction and nonfiction?

Robert Olen Butler is a brilliant writer, has an entertaining Facebook feed, and is loved by all large insects.
Butler’s latest book,Paris in the Dark, is excellent. I just finished it.
The best feeling an author can have: seeing stacks of his own books hot off the presses.


You’ve spent many years working closely with Robert Olen Butler, one of the greatest writers in the world. What do you think people should know about three aspects of this relationship: Teacher and student; mentor and mentee; and senior colleague and junior colleague?

Alexis Phares works at the Bobby E. Leach Center at Florida State University. And loves her dog.
Tamiera Vandegrift is a writer and filmmaker.
Not surprisingly, Nia Dickens is a writer and editor.
Author and mentor together.


Mr. Butler produced an amazing 32-hour long video series of him writing a short story from scratch. In the beginning, he says that at the core of any story there must be the expression of a deep sense of longing on the part of a character. What do you think of this idea?

Watch Robert Olen Butler create a short story from scratch across 32-hours of video: every thought, every keystroke, every backspace, a rare experience of watching a master writer at work from start to finish.
The author on tour: “An absolute joy to read at Innisfree Bookshop in Meredith, NH, where I’ve been going since I was a little kid.”


In your teaching now, what have you carried forth from the teaching you received from Mr. Butler, and what of your teaching has either evolved from his teaching or arisen directly out of your own experience as a writer and writing instructor?

Sharing an evening with the amazing Elizabeth McCracken. Check out the cool octopus on her website.


Many college-bound high school students are facing an uncomfortable discovery when they get to school: they don’t write very well and the institution that accepted them is requiring that they take remedial courses with no credit attached. This is a new phenomenon, maybe just the last 20 years or so. What’s going on here?

This is what happens when your work gets bigger than you are.



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Steve Peha

Founder of Teaching That Makes Sense, an education consultancy specializing in literacy and leadership. Author of "Be a Better Writer."