Valerie Miner is the award-winning author of fifteen books. Her stories and essays have been published in more than sixty anthologies. A number of her pieces have been dramatized on BBC Radio 4, and her work has been translated into German, Turkish, Danish, Italian, Spanish, French, Swedish and Dutch. Miner has won fellowships and awards from The Rockefeller Foundation, Fondazione Bogliasco, The Brown Foundation, Fundación Valparaiso, The McKnight Foundation, The NEA, The Jerome Foundation, The Heinz Foundation, The Australia Council Literary Arts Board and numerous other sources, and has received Fulbright Fellowships to Tunisia, India and Indonesia. Since 2005 she has been Artist-in-Residence at the Clayman Institute. Bread and Salt is her fourth collection of stories.
Mary: Welcome to People Who Make Books Happen, Valerie. Let’s start at the very beginning: How did you become a writer?
Valerie: I started out as a journalist and reported from Africa, Europe, Canada and the US. Although I studied literature at university, we were rarely assigned books by women. When I later discovered books by Doris Lessing, Toni Cade Bambara, Bessie Head and Margaret Atwood, I began to dare to write fiction. My first co-authored book (1975) emerged from my writing group. I’ve been in writing groups ever since; they sustain and provoke my work.
Mary: Which writers have influenced you?
Valerie: I continue to be moved by the language of Shakespeare, Milton and Whitman, favorites since my U.C. Berkeley days. The feminist writers above inspire me as do Rohinton Mistry, Toni Morrison, Grace Paley and others who attend to the music of language and the challenges of fostering social justice and compassion. I’m grateful to my current writing group for close readings of Bread and Salt and to many other writers who “swap” drafts of new books with me. This kind of contemporary critique is crucial.
Mary: How do you get the initial idea for a story or novel?
Valerie: My novels are usually ignited by a question–a philosophical, spiritual, moral, political quandary. My stories are usually imagined from a particular scene. Place is very important in all my fiction.
Mary: Tell us more Bread and Salt. What is the most important thing readers should know about it?
Mary: The stories deal with women’s friendships, gun violence in families, falling in love, state terrorism, guardian angels, suicide as well as provocative encounters in India, Indonesia, Italy, Turkey and other places. The title novella follows two lovers from Tunisia to Boston to France and back to Tunisia. Three quarters of the stories feature queer characters. (Two of my previous collections were finalists for the Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Fiction.) In a variety of forms ranging from mirco-fiction to novella, the characters in Bread and Salt navigate romance, terror, grief, passion, and whimsy.
Mary: If you could ensure that one of your stories would survive to be read 500 years from now, which story would it be, and why have you chosen it?
Valerie: If I’m brief, may I pick two? “Incident on the Tracks,” depicts a short train journey during which three strangers of various races, classes, ages and genders discover an unlikely friendship. “Hollow” explores the often ignored tectonic shifts within a family that can lead to catastrophe in our gun-obsessed culture.
Mary: Thank you for joining us here today, Valerie. Before you go, where can readers buy copies of Bread and Salt?
Valerie: Bread and Salt is available (in paperback and ebook) from independent bookstores as well as Amazon, B and N, etc. For book clubs who buy Bread and Salt, I’m happy to offer a gratis Zoom visit. I enjoy meeting readers and hearing their insights.