Michaela Carter moved from her hometown of Phoenix, Ariz., to Los Angeles, Calif., for UCLA's theater department, but while there she fell in love with poetry, which she went on to study at Warren Wilson College. Nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, her work has appeared in New England Review, the Southern Review, Puerto del Sol and elsewhere. She teaches creative writing at Yavapai College and is co-founder and co-owner of Peregrine Book Company, an indie bookstore in Prescott, Ariz., where she works as a book buyer and storyteller. Her debut novel, Further Out Than You Thought (Morrow, August 5, 2014), draws on her experiences in Los Angeles during the 1992 riots. She lives in Prescott with her partner and her two inscrutable children.
On your nightstand now:
It seems my nightstand is always stacked with galleys I'm longing to read. Right now I am savoring The Plover by Brian Doyle. Next up are The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison and How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer. I also have a signed copy of Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins that I plan on reading very delicately.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak fascinated me to no end. Later on, I adored The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Mary Lennox was such a complex character, dour and angry and not about pleasing anyone, and I loved that, as well as the mystery of the key, and the magic of the garden she tends, which in turn transforms her.
Your top five authors:
Elizabeth Bishop, Virginia Woolf, Gabriel García Márquez, Mary Gaitskill and Paul Bowles.
Book you've faked reading:
Most of the romantic poets--Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley. I've never read them and don't really care to, although I wouldn't necessarily tell my students that. However, I do love John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn," as well as the collection of his letters, and I've memorized Samuel Taylor Coleridge's wonderful poem "Kubla Khan," which I used to tell to my kids to put them to sleep. It worked every time.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Famished Road by Ben Okri. The rhythm of Okri's language draws you in and doesn't let you go. It's a story of struggle and poverty, but through the eyes of a child, this world becomes enchanted. The book is captivating. Pure poetry.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The bat on the bright-yellow cover of Karen Russell's Vampires in the Lemon Grove has his mouth open, as though he's in the middle of a belly-laugh. I just had to take him home.
Book that changed your life:
Sharon Olds's book of poems The Gold Cell came out when I was in college. She writes with such honesty about sex and the female body; her book made me realize you could write about anything. It lit a fire inside me. It made me want to write from my gut.
Favorite line from a book:
I'm habitually smitten with lines. Here's one that has stuck around, from the short story "In Memory of Something or Other," in the collection Black Freckles by Larry Levis: "Tell me what happened in your life. Don't bother with facts. Make the telling of it resemble a light made wholly of light--like the lights of that distant city you glimpsed once, the city that made you famous, then exiled you."
Which character you most relate to:
Alice, from Lewis Carroll's masterpiece Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which I believe isn't only for children. She never quite belongs anywhere, but is delighted by all she discovers. And it seems to me this world we live in is always getting "curiouser and curiouser."
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
I recently read Anthony Doerr's newest novel, All the Light We Cannot See. I took my time with it and was reticent to finish. Afterward, there was this lull. I didn't want to start anything else--it was that good.
Best book found at a yard sale:
The strangest would have to be an old hardcover of The Story of O by Pauline Reage, which I found at a sale at my children's grade school--an overly idealistic charter school. The best part about it was the inscription: "I hope this will remind you of our many happy hours together. --Steve."