Charlotte Gullick: Speaking for the Forgotten

Charlotte Gullick headshot

Charlotte Gullick. Photo courtesy of the author

Charlotte Gullick is inspired “by the stories of people who don’t often see themselves reflected in the dominant culture,” she says. “For me, this often means rural folks.” More than one reviewer has aligned Gullick’s work with Steinbeck’s in terms of her interest in writing about social change and shining a light on people hidden in the dark.

By Way of Water, Gullick’s novel about a family in a forgotten pocket of California’s redwood country in the 1970s who are struggling to put food on the table when the local logging jobs dry up, was chosen as the winner of the Santa Fe Literary Awards Program in 2002. In the story, we meet a stubbornly prideful husband and his Jehovah’s Witness wife as viewed by their seven-year-old daughter while their lives are wrought by alcoholism, poverty, and difficult environmental change. Originally published by Blue Hen Books/Penguin Putnam, which unfortunately folded a month later, the book was reissued by the Santa Fe Writers Project in 2013.

I am inspired by the stories of people who don’t often see themselves reflected in the dominant culture. For me, this often means rural people.

Since then, Gullick, who also writes poetry and nonfiction, has spent much of her time and energy on teaching creative writing at Austin Community College in Texas where she is chair of the department. She has also taught in the Travis County Correctional Complex and organized classes and literary events for Veterans in the Austin Community, a testament to her commitment to give voice to those with important stories who are not often heard.

“I think teaching writing has made me more humble about process,” she says. “It is also made me understand how important community is for writers particularly at the beginning of our careers. We don’t just need help in figuring out how to improve and keeping faith in our work, we need help learning how to deal with rejection, success, and jealousy.”

Gullick has since published short pieces, most focused on systemic inequity, in the LA Review, Pithead Chapel, and Brevity, and is looking forward to a forthcoming essay in The Rumpus soon. She is working on revising a second novel and has also completed a memoir about being a first-generation college student, which she has topped with advanced degrees—she received her AA with High Honors from Santa Rosa Junior College, a BA with Honors in Literature/Creative Writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a MA in English/Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis. She completed her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2016.

I suggest thinking about the fees for writing contest as paying the way for all writers. You may not be the winner this time but you’re creating a community of winners.

Gullick’s other awards include a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship for Fiction, a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry, a MacDowell Colony Residency, and a Ragdale Residency. When asked what advice she would give to writers about submitting to contests, Gullick offers: “I would say get other people to read it before you submit. You increase your chances of winning by getting a stronger piece. Read your work out loud to see if it feels good in your mouth and in your ear.”

She continues: “I also suggest thinking about the fees for writing contest as paying the way for all writers. You may not be the winner this time but you’re creating a community of winners. Finally, and this is very obvious, but it took me a while to figure it out: you stand a much better chance of winning if you enter than if you don’t.”

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