Vanessa Furse Jackson comes originally from England. However, she currently lives and writes in South Texas, where she teaches English at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Her most recent collection of stories, Small Displacements, published by Livingston Press, won the PEN Texas 2011 Southwest Award for Fiction.
Vanessa: My story deals with a daughter (Amanda) coming to terms with her mother’s dementia. The mother has really lost the identity she used to have, and Amanda must not only come to terms with this but also find her own identity as a woman whose mother can no longer function as the nurturing, loving figure she still needs.
Amoskeag: In developing your main and supporting characters, how do you see them losing or finding themselves?
Vanessa: I’m not sure either character quite finds themselves. Amanda tries to become her own mother’s mother, as if her mother is now the small child Amanda once was. There is loss for both of them in this.
Amoskeag: What is the one line, the one sentence in your piece that for you sums up the meaning of “identity?”
Vanessa: I can’t give you only one sentence that answers your question, but this is the bit: “Em, just Em,” insisted her mother. . . . Not Mamma, as the baby Amanda had called her. Not Emily, as she had been christened. Just Em, as if to hoard her identity against the meshes of marriage and motherhood.”
Amoskeag: How do you identify yourself as a writer — how did you get here? Who/what made you so? Where have you come from? What have you gone through?
Vanessa: I got to where I am as a writer by writing. There is no other way of doing it that I know of. Each time I write a piece, I learn something, move forward as a writer, gain in ways that are often intangible and mysterious. I did an MFA (in poetry, though I now write fiction), and I’m glad I did, but for years now I’ve been as solitary as most writers are, just slogging away on my own, eternally grateful that I have such a magicalprofession/hobby/urge. (Well, which is it?) I also teach writing, which helps – makes me think about it a great deal – about craft, technique, ways of moving forward. I’ve had more rejections than I can count. I’ve also won a prize that really gave me a boost. I shall write till I die.
Amoskeag: What lies ahead for you?
Vanessa: See above. But who knows? That’s the exhilarating thing about writing – you never know what lies ahead. Stories bubble up from who knows where. You never know where writing will take you next. Lots more fabulous journeys, I hope. I shan’t ever stop voyaging.
To view an excerpt of Vanessa’s short story “Cat’s Cradle,” click here.