Judith Woodburn is the author of six non-fiction books for children on the environment, mental health, and other subjects, most recently, Your Happiest You. She is co-author, with Nancy Holyoke, of Worry: A Smart Girl’s Guide. Her essays and articles have appeared in many journalistic and literary venues for both adults and children, including The New York Times, Wisconsin People and Ideas, Salon.com, OurSelves, The Progressive, and Mademoiselle. She was the winner of the Council for Wisconsin Writers Award for Non-Fiction and her short story, “Lucky People,” was awarded the New South Prize for Short Fiction. She is the recipient of a Wisconsin Arts Board Individual Artist Program Literary Fellow. She has led writing workshops at Woodland Pattern literary arts center in Milwaukee and has taught both journalistic and literary essay writing at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and Marquette University.

A Conversation with Jānis Valks

Jānis Valks is a science fiction writer from Latvia who will spend the month of February in residence at Write On. I had the opportunity to talk with him about his work and his upcoming stay, which is also his first visit to the United States. He will give a presentation on his work and his home country on Wednesday, February 12, 1 pm, at the Kress Pavilion in Egg Harbor.

Write On (WO): You have been a member of the Latvian Writers Union since 2017. What does membership in the union mean to you both personally and professionally?

Jānis Valks (JV): It means a lot, but I’ll try to keep it short.

Personally, it`s the awareness that you are a part of something bigger, a whole movement with common goals. That you are not just a rural writer who has succeeded in publishing some books, but that your work is productive and purposeful.

Professionally as a member of the union my writer’s name takes on a more prominent role, it gains importance in projects, foundations, scholarship commissions, residencies and more. I don’t want to just take – I also want to give something back. I look forward to contributing to the work of the Writers’ Union in the future, sharing my experience and helping it grow.

WO: Your novels explore the consequences of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in your home country as well as the rest of Eastern Europe. What has been the greatest change, particularly for writers and artists, in your opinion?

JV: For writers and artists, as well as pretty much every other person in former soviet block countries the greatest change is the freedom of speech, open borders and open communication with the rest of the world.

WO: You have been awarded a number of writers’ residencies, including one at the prestigious Hawthornden Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland. What do these residencies allow you to accomplish with regard to your own work and what do you hope to accomplish while at Write On?

JV: Peaceful work in residencies means a lot to me. It is an opportunity to organize thoughts, generate ideas for new literary works, work smoothly and peacefully, more productive than at home. I can get in line with myself and relax from daily tasks. See new places, explore the world, meet interesting people, make new friends and new acquaintances, find unexpected opportunities for the future. I believe I will achieve this and much more in Write On. Also, visiting the United States has been an unfulfilled dream of mine for a long time. I hope that traveling around America and living in Door county will be a great and pleasant adventure.

WO: For people unfamiliar with Latvia, what would you most like them to know about your country?

JV: My country is small – the entire country is smaller than half of Wisconsin. Latvia is green and beautiful, with forests full of life, quiet lakes and winding rivers. Latvians always have had and hopefully always will have a strong connection to the nature around them. I will be talking more about Latvia in my presentation.

WO: What is the best writing advice you ever received?

JV: Always do your work to the best of your abilities and never stop learning and improving your skills. Don’t give up.

WO: What writer or book most influenced you and your decision to become a writer and why?

JV: I think the writer who influenced me the most is Gerald Durrell, his love for nature, humor, irony and the way he reaches readers. But the decision to become a writer is the result of my love for books and literature. In my teenage years, every book that I read was a unique wonder for me, and to write a book of my own was a huge and far away dream – perhaps one that I would never even achieve. I decided to try writing prose almost twenty years ago, and about ten years later, despite the doubt, that far away dream came true and my first book was published.