FROM THE FOLIO: AN INTERVIEW WITH GLASS HOUSE SHELTER PROJECT FOLIO CONTRIBUTOR MARK NOREK
Mark Norek’s nonfiction appears in Drunken Boat 23’s Glass House Shelter Project folio. Drunken Boat’s Features Editor Peter Mishler spoke with Mark about his experience with the GHSP course.
Peter Mishler: Can you tell me how you came to be enrolled in the Glass House Shelter Project?
Mark Norek: Purely by accident I wandered into a creative writing class conducted by Professor Julie Batten at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans, thus picking up where my piece “Blowback” [published in DB23’s folio] left off. In other words, “Blowback” ends when I met Julie. Not only did she inspire me to begin writing, she personally brought me to the registrar at UMass Boston and helped me to get enrolled to complete the seven courses I needed for my Bachelor Degree. I am proud to say I was awarded my degree Cum Laude, graduating 24th out of 4,144 graduates. The ceremony was held at T.D. Garden on UMass Boston’s 50th anniversary. Until I came into contact with bands like Pink Floyd, I had two pictures on my wall — one of Jesus and one of JFK. JFK’s birthday is May 29. Everything seemed to have dovetailed into place.
PM: When you look at the finished version of Blowback, what do you see?
MN: Until very recently my writing was limited to assigned papers I needed to submit to get my bachelor’s degree. At the same time I was working on transitioning from being homeless to obtaining permanent housing. I am happy to report that I did, in fact, receive my degree from UMass: Boston and I am now permanently housed in the greater Boston area. In 2013 my piece “Blowback” won a city wide writing contest sponsored by Consequence magazine. Now that my personal life is stable I plan to pursue my writing with a vengeance, so to speak. Whether sending a simple text message or writing for a major publication, I try to say what I have to say in as clear a voice as possible. Nowadays we are all being read all the time in all kinds of formats so I take each word seriously. I see myself as an essayist, if I were to describe my most effective writing.
PM: What are you are working on now?
MK: I have put “Blowback” on the back burner for the time being. I see this piece as perhaps forming the skeleton of a full-blown autobiography in the future, but I still have a few chapters left to live before I can write them.
PM: I’d love to know more about the importance of your experience at Glass House Shelter Project. What do you see as the value of writing for those who may find their way to the project? And what is your advice for future participants?
MK: Quite simply put, I doubt I would have ever found a way to get my work out there if it were not for the Glass House Project. This program, in and of itself, is able to provide an individual with a new raison d’etre, as it were. Doors one never knew even existed present themselves to the would be writer. My advice to anybody interested in writing is to attend one of the sessions — and then, don’t be discouraged. Like anything else worthwhile in this life to achieve, one must practice. The more one writes, the better a writer he will become. The hardest part is getting started by making that initial commitment. The support will be there for a writer if he but seeks it out.
PM: Can you tell me more about your experience with Julie Batten — how did she inspire you? What was it about her that made an impact on you?
MK: I met Professor Julie Batten through Glass House and this relationship has literally changed my life — including how I define myself. When somebody asks me what I do, I say I am a “writer.” I must put Julie Batten on a pedestal. This woman is on a never-ending mission to help improve the lives of every person with whom she comes into contact. There is no Mark Norek the Writer without Julie Batten the Mentor.