Countdown to Muse 2019: Impossible Writing by Virginia Pye

The Muse and the Marketplace 2019 kicks off on April 5th at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston. This year’s theme is writing in a time of upheaval — whether such upheaval is personal, political, artistic, or all of the above. In anticipation of the conference, we’ve asked Muse 2019 presenting authors to describe a time when it was impossible for them to write, but they wrote anyway. How did they do it? What did they write? Our next presenter in the series is Virginia Pye, author of Shelf Life of Happiness.

Before the arrival of my first child, I had finished a draft of a novel about a woman with AIDS, a death sentence in the early 1980s. But after going through my own near-death tragedy during my daughter’s birth, the story lost urgency for me and I abandoned it.

Greatly weakened, I focused all my attention on bonding with my baby and regaining strength, while writing seemed like a distant concern. Besides, my desk was now a changing table, the computer stored under the bed.

Little by little, I returned to writing, through poems, then short stories, and eventually a novel about motherhood. I had to overcome what I’d been taught, that domestic stories weren’t serious. I also worked with women writer friends on a Xeroxed and stapled little magazine we called Mother Tongue. It felt like a radical gesture.

Motherhood had brought me, and my writing, back to life. I’ve written about it in novels and stories ever since.



You can catch Virginia’s craft discussion, “Perfecting Voice in Historical Fiction” on Sunday, April 7th at 10:00am at the Muse. For all the latest Muse news, follow #Muse19.

Virginia Pye is the author of two award-winning novels, Dreams of the Red Phoenix and River of Dust, and the recent story collection, Shelf Life of Happiness. Her stories, essays, and interviews have appeared in Literary Hub, The New York Times, The Rumpus, Huffington Post, The North American Review, The Baltimore Review, and elsewhere. She lived in Richmond, Virginia for many years and now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Find her online at www.virginiapye.com, FB, Twitter, and Instagram.

She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied with Allan Gurganus and Joan Silber. In college at Wesleyan University she learned from Annie Dillard and F.D. Reeve. After graduate school, she served as assistant to Frances Goldin at her literary agency in New York City. Virginia has taught creative writing and literature at New York University and the University of Pennsylvania, in high schools, community centers, and in her home. In Richmond, she helped establish and run James River Writers, a literary non-profit.


Virginia has been awarded Fiction Fellowships to the Tin House Writers’ Workshop, the Virginia Quarterly Review Conference, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She recently served as a mentor in the AWP Writer to Writer Program. She is married to contemporary art museum director John Ravenal and is the mother of two young adult children.

About the Author

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