Author Hannah Tinti on Finding Inspiration Writing in New Surroundings

August 26, 2014  • Barbara Dills, Guest Blogger

Author Hannah Tinti in Aspen, CO. (Photo Credit: Emily Taylor)

Award-winning author and editor Hannah Tinti just concluded three weeks as the August Aspen Writers’ Foundation’s Writer in Residence. Tinti spent her residency  at a private Woody Creek retreat near Aspen, CO, polishing the final draft of her latest novel, whose working title is “The Twelve Bullets of Samuel Holly.” While in Aspen, Tinti read a chapter from that draft and shared details about her experience as a resident writer. 

Hannah Tinti is the author of “The Good Thief,” a New York Times Notable Book that garnered many other awards, and is also known for her earlier short story collection, “Animal Crackers,” a runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway award. In addition to writing and teaching at Columbia University, New York University, the American Museum of Natural History, and elsewhere, Tinti is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the magazine One Story, a literary journal that publishes a single short story by a new writer each month. She says being an editor has made her much harder on herself as a writer, but also a much better writer.

Opening her talk with a tribute to Isa Catto and Daniel Shaw, who support the Writer in Residence program through the Catto Charitable Foundation, Tinti said, “They provided me with this amazing space to work, with views to die for, and a silence that, since I live in Brooklyn, I truly and greatly appreciated and value highly… These last three weeks at Woody Creek have allowed my mind to open up and for me to really dig into the writing.” Tinti then read to the audience from Thoreau, whose time at Walden Pond she characterized as “probably the first true American artist’s residency.”

In addition to reading from the latest draft of “The Twelve Bullets of Samuel Holly,” Tinti talked about her writing process during her residency, leading the audience through a simple journaling exercise she learned from cartoonist and author Lynda Barry and which she incorporated into her daily routine while working in Aspen. In this exercise, “You put your writerly life on pause and really notice the world around you,” said Tinti. She also regularly incorporates sketching into her writing routine as a way of “opening up new creative paths.”

Tinti’s new book is about a man who gets shot multiple times but doesn’t die. “When I started the book, I was thinking a lot about heroes, and what does it mean to be a hero in different myths and cultures,” Tinti told the audience. “Eventually, I zeroed in on Hercules and his 12 labors… I became really fascinated with the dark side of heroism.” During each day of her residency, Tinti made a ballpoint pen sketch of the 12 labors to help focus her writing, which she posted on the wall for those gathered at the event.

Answering an audience question about how various unexpected elements creep into her stories, Tinti said a lot of that has to do with her surroundings when she writes.

“While I’ve been here, because the environment, the land, and the landscape here are so powerful, a lot of it seeped in,” she said. “So, when you read this book, you’re going to notice all kinds of things about Aspen and Woody Creek.”

Tinti’s residency is one in a continuous string that has included writers working in fiction, poetry, and memoir. In September, the Aspen Writers’ Foundation and the Catto Charitable Foundation will welcome Terry McMillan as the next writer in residence to take advantage of the program. McMillan is the acclaimed author of such bestselling novels as “Waiting to Exhale” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back;” her latest is “Who Asked You?” On August 14th, McMillan tweeted, “Will be off Twitter until late September. I’ll be sequestering from the real world in order to create my own.” 

About the Writer in Residence Program

The Aspen Writers’ Foundation (AWF) Writer in Residence program provides a space for authors to nourish their craft, giving them time to write, meet the AWF community, and convene with local writers. Writers are selected through a nomination process initiated by the recommendations of editors, agents and other publishing professionals familiar with their work.