Why I Write: Katie Cortese

Because one of my earliest memories is my father reading The Hobbit out loud as I drifted off to sleep. He’s an electrical engineer. Left-handed, despite the best efforts of the nuns, and can draw up blueprints for a house and passable portraits of family that lives inside with equal alacrity. I remember him reading with bifocals perched on his head in a tone softer than his normal voice and better than any lullaby.

Because my other earliest memory is of standing in front of my mother’s high school drama teacher, a nun long retired from teaching, on a rug so threadbare I don’t believe it was ever new, reciting a Juliet speech, of which this portion has dogged me ever since: “When he shall die, / take him and cut him out in little stars, / And he shall make the face of heaven so fine / that all the world will be in love with night / and pay no worship to the garish sun.”

Because I ran out of Nancy Drews. And The Babysitter’s Club. And Choose Your Own Adventures.

Because all the heroes of the Choose Your Own Adventure stories were boys.

Because I read The Color Purple when I was twelve. I found it on a bookshelf and my parents didn’t stop me, even though I would understand now if they had. I didn’t know a book could be written in letters. I didn’t know a book could shake everything I thought I knew about the world to its foundations. I didn’t know a book could haunt its reader, or that the reader would be grateful. I didn’t know some books can make a writer out of a reader just by showing her how many different kinds of stories, essential ones, there are to tell.

Because kids liked it when I read out the sexy bits of Stephen King’s It on the bus to St. Joseph’s. (Because I didn’t know there was something called “literary fiction” and that I should shun “popular fiction” as matter of course—a lesson I’m still grateful I never learned). Every story I wrote as a teenager—include a lengthy novel co-written with a friend about our eighth-grade classmates—was an imitation of It in some respect. (The stuff about people, not monsters. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read the book.) Hell, maybe they still are.

Because almost thirty years after The Handmaid’s Tale was published, conditions are such that it’s as relevant now as ever. (God bless Margaret Atwood, long may she live.)

Because my tattoo reminds me to.

Because writing is the only thing that makes me feel I have a shot at being the change I want to see in the world. On the good days, anyway. And sometimes on the bad ones too.

Because the world needs more empathy, which is a natural byproduct of stories.

Because every voice matters. Even the small ones. The soft ones. Even those that only reach a few ears. Every voice. Really, really, really.

I write because history shows us—heck, The Daily Show and Roxane Gay and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and thousands of journalists and bloggers and working poets and writers literally show us every day—that it’s the best weapon against hopelessness and despair and loneliness, mightier than tear gas and homophobia and injustice and corrupt politicians and fracking and every other evil in the world, and every bit as necessary for reaching our human potential as oxygen is for continued function of the brain.

Because it’s fun, damn it. It feels good. Except when it feels bad, but even then, most days, it feels right.

About Katie Cortese

Katie Cortese lives in Lubbock, TX where she is an Assistant Professor in Fiction Writing at Texas Tech University. She writes fiction, poetry, and essays, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sport Literate, Crab Orchard Review, The Tusculum Review, Gulf Coast, Nano Fiction, Main Street Rag, Willow Springs, Zone 3, Passages North, Carve Magazine, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere. Her stories have received first prize in River Styx’s Schlafly Beer Micro-Fiction Contest and third prize in Narrative Magazine‘s Spring Story Contest. She holds a PhD from Florida State university, an MFA from Arizona State University, and has earned scholarships to attend the New York State Summer Writers Institute and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. The former editor-in-chief of The Southeast Review, she now serves as the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review. Her current projects include a short story collection, flash fiction collection, and a historical novel set in Boston’s Italian North End during the early twentieth century.