November 2, 2007

A Conversation with Erika J. Waters

Where were you born?

I was born in Alexandria, VA, because my mother was working at the Pentagon. I lived there only three months, though, and then we started moving, first to Maryland, then Boston, Brooklyn, and finally, Rockland County, NY which is slightly upstate from NYC, on the Hudson River.

Describe current family life.

I live in Maine now, with my husband and elderly dog. Our daughter is at Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston and comes home only when coerced.

What do you do for a living?

I took early retirement from the University of the Virgin Islands and now teach English part-time at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

Why did you choose this vocation?

I love books and reading! When I found out I could get a degree for reading for 4 years, I was ecstatic.

Who are your three favorite writers?

When I was in high school and college, I came to love Thomas Hardy‘s novels; I still admire his fiction and poetry, too. Then I read Zora Neale Hurston‘s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and she became my favorite author. After I started studying Caribbean literature, I was thoroughly impressed with both Derek Walcott and Kamau Brathwaite.

What was the first book you fell in love with and how have your reading habits changed over the years?

Way way back I loved Nancy Drew (You’re going to hear this a lot from women) and then I loved biographies. I remember Invincible Louisa, the biography of Louisa May Alcott. I also loved poetry from a very early age: I remember reading a collection called The Gay Poets about the Romantic poets (the word had nothing to do with sexuality then) and loving it. As an adolescent, I read an anthology of love poems so much it fell apart.

My reading habits today have been influenced by lack of time--I‘m more selective. Also, I don‘t feel compelled to finish a book that is wasting my time.

An interesting question might be when do you read? So many people I know read before they go to bed. I could never do that because I would end up staying up all night. I wonder if others who study literature for a living or write it would agree?

What are you reading now?

I’ve just finished The Law of Dreams by Peter Behrens, the story of a man’s life during the potato famine in Ireland and then his immigration to Canada. I was utterly amazed by this book and have recommended it to everyone I know.

What makes you laugh?

A lot of silly things make me laugh! I laugh out loud at funny movies, at TV shows, at slap-stick comedy. I laugh a lot, actually, and I value those people I can laugh with.

About Erika Waters

Erika J. Waters received her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in English from NYU and then an Education Specialist in Adult and Continuing Education and a Ph.D. in English from the University of New Mexico. She started teaching at the University of the Virgin Islands (St. Croix) in the early 1970s; in1987 she founded The Caribbean Writer. She also edited or co-edited books of Caribbean poetry, fiction, literary criticism, and drama. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, she researched early Caribbean women writers; she has published reviews and articles on Caribbean literature for over 30 years. In 2002 she took early retirement from UVI and moved to Maine, where she now teaches part-time at the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine, Augusta. She was a Fulbright Scholar in Finland in 2005 where she taught Caribbean Literature.


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