If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
The title I used for my memoir about growing up Greek American when it was in thesis form at The New School was The Language of Replanted Flowers. When I was a little girl, I was quiet and sensitive, and my father said I was “a delicate flower.” He had grown up farming on the mainland of Greece, and even when he moved to the suburbs of New Jersey, where there were vast supermarkets and gourmet grocery stores, he spent almost every weekend laboring to grow fruits and vegetables in our backyard. Gardening was practical for him, but sometimes he would present me with roses that grew along the fence. When he decided to move back to Greece, uprooting our family, the thing I remember most about the days leading up to it was how worried he was about one of his plants. My story is about thriving where you’re planted and about blossoming into the person you’re meant to be.
My uncle also suggested My Imported Family, which I think is quite clever and would sell better than my title!
What is the greatest story ever told?
The greatest story ever told is the one that encourages you, the one where you find community in the words on the page so that you feel a little less alone and a little more you. It’s the story that gives you Hope. It’s the story that moves you, inspires you, changes you, motivates you to action. It’s the story that keeps revealing itself time after time.
Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
Anne Shirley from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series. She’s passionate, bold, and impetuous yet sensitive, generous, and loving, touching the lives of everyone she meets. She is intelligent and imaginative. She recites Tennyson while lying in the bottom of a boat and accidentally gets her kindred spirit, Diana, drunk on current wine. She doesn’t give in easily to the smug Gilbert Blythe, instead rivaling him academically.
Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
I once invited Donald Miller, who wrote the bestseller Blue Like Jazz, to meet up when his book tour came through New York—but he turned me down! I’m sure he gets invitations all the time and that mine sounded just as fangirl-ish as the rest, but the reason I had wanted to meet him was because his writing was really influential on my own work, not only from a literary standpoint but also practically. He founded a website called Burnside Writers Collective, for which his friends Jordan Green was Editor-in-Chief and Penny Carothers was Social Justice Editor, and for which I eventually became the Visual Arts Editor. Over the years, I got to meet so many of the talented editors and writers who worked for Burnside — Jordan and Penny and also Amy Deal, Chad Gibbs, Kim Gottschild, Susan E. Isaacs, J. Scott McElroy, Diane Nienhuis, John Pattison, Larry Shallenberger, and Betsy Zabel. We’ve talked over meals and coffee and beer, and it’s just felt so natural, like being with family.
I started reading the Beat Generation writers when I was in high school, and one of the aspects that captivated me was that they were friends sharing their work with one another, suggesting edits and promoting each other, and living life together. Years later, with Burnside Writers Collective, I found that. I found this amazing group of writers who inspired me and encouraged me. There are so many other people who wrote for Burnside that I never met in person, but I still feel like I know them. And I’m so grateful for that community. Oh, and I did end up meeting Donald Miller in person when Susan brought me backstage before a reading she did when she was on tour with him for her book Angry Conversations with God, and I could see the light bulb going off over his head that I was the same person who’d emailed him and now had somehow finagled my way backstage!
What is your favorite word right now?
My favorite word is “galaktoboureko.” It sounds like a dessert from another galaxy!
What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?
Every time I see the word “comely,” I think it means the exact opposite of its definition. In my mind it’s synonymous with “homely.”
How many words have you written today?
I never keep track, but definitely not enough!
Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
Oh, I love this question! I always carry a journal when I travel, and some of my most exhilarating writing experiences have been on the road. I remember reading my bible and writing as the sun set while I looked out at the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. I thought it was the most romantic existence ever until I realized the birds I thought were flying overhead were actually bats!
What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?
Even though I’m an editor by trade, I hate editing my own work.
What is the thing about writing that you most love?
I love that writing permits being quiet. It’s a wonderful feeling to slow down and ruminate. I’m always amazed that when I come to the page I so often have no idea what I’m going to write or think I’m going to write one thing only to discover my writing takes me somewhere completely unexpected and amazing.
What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
I think the stereotype that writers are selfish holds some truth. You have to be a bit selfish as a writer if you want to produce quality work. Writing demands a lot of time — time to write, time to research, time to edit, time to read, time to attend readings, time to pitch, time to do social media; time that other people spend with loved ones or, you know, sleep. But I think writers are also incredibly generous, giving feedback on each other’s work, promoting and blurbing each other, helping non-writer friends write cover letters.
What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
I get frustrated by the notion that writers write for the pure love of the craft and are happy being starving artists. Yes, of course, we write because we’re passionate about words and stories, but it is work. Difficult, time-sucking, soul-baring work. And we should be compensated accordingly.
What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
I think that depends so much on what someone reads of mine. I once wrote an essay about how reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road encouraged me to be independent, and I was shocked when people commented that they thought I read the Beats because I was trying to be cool. Back when I had started reading the Beats, it never occurred to me that reading any specific author would make me appear “cool” because I didn’t think others thought reading itself was cool. To a large extent the Beats themselves were outcasts, and I related to that, to the feeling of being a little different, to not always fitting in. If anyone reads my personal essays and the memoir I’m working on, I think they’d see how very uncool I was. They’d read about how quiet, awkward, dorky, and rule following I am and might be shocked to discover how much I like the literature of the Beat Generation.
Stephanie Nikolopoulos is a writer and editor living in New York City. She is the author, with Paul Maher Jr., of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” She also wrote the introduction to the reissue of the classics A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird and Hunting the Grisly by Theodore Roosevelt and contributed entries to Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia. Her writing has appeared in BOMBlog, Brooklyn Rail, Burnside Writers Collective, Gothamist, The Literary Traveler, The Millions, Resource Magazine, and other publications. She earned her BA from Scripps College and her MFA from The New School. She blogs at www.StephanieNikolopoulos.com.