By Michael K. Smith, Ph.D.
“Being in exile helped me discover myself,” Linda Parsons told me one Saturday morning at Panera Bread. Linda was born in Nashville, but her family moved to Wisconsin for her high school years. Attending high school so far away from where she was raised highlighted what it was “to be Southern” and helped her develop her own streak of independence. She eventually migrated back South to Knoxville where she earned a BA and MA in English from the University of Tennessee. Along this path she discovered she wanted to be a writer.
Linda said that novels like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and the poetry of T. S. Eliot “opened my eyes to the beauty and power of language.” Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman was particularly influential, not only due to the powerful dialogue but also because her father was a traveling salesman facing many of the same struggles as Willy Loman.
Linda has become a renowned poet, essayist, and playwright and is an editor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She is author of four collections of poetry: Home Fires (1997), Mother Land (2008), Bound (2011), and the just released This Shaky Earth (2016), which is reviewed in this issue. Many of her essays and poems have been published in the anthologies Sleeping with One Eye Open: Women Writers and the Art of Survival (1999), Her Words: Diverse Voices in Contemporary Appalachian Women’s Poetry (2002), and Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia (2003). Her column “The Writing Well” appeared in New Millennium Writings from 1995 to 2000.
Her recent play, Under the Esso Moon, was selected for the Tennessee Stage Company’s 2016 New Play Festival. Linda told me that this play, partly autobiographical, depicted the birthday week of a young girl turning thirteen. The girl and her relatives live in an apartment above the Esso gas station. “This is a coming of age play,” Linda said, as the protagonist confronts her own budding adolescence and family secrets. Linda has also co-authored, with Jayne Morgan, Macbeth Is the New Black, a tense play centered on female inmates in an East Tennessee juvenile detention center, performing Shakespeare’s Macbeth amid abuse by the facility superintendent.
Linda said that novels like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and the poetry of T. S. Eliot “opened my eyes to the beauty and power of language.
Her new collection of poems, however, garners most of Linda’s attention as she begins a promotional tour. She admitted that writing these poems revealed “the tectonic plates of our lives and how we tread across the shaky earth of our existence.” The poems range from reflections on her own grandmother to the feelings associated with being a grandmother herself. The poems share the experience of how things in life come apart but then coalesce into new patterns.
Linda and I both share interests in local writing groups particularly the Knoxville Writers’ Guild. As we left Panera Bread on that sunny Saturday, we promised to talk more at one of these local meetings.
Michael K. Smith, Ph.D., is owner of TESTPREP EXPERTS (www.testprepexperts.com ) which prepares students for standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. He is also a consultant to Discovery Education Assessment. He can reached at email@example.com.