Beverly Lowry was born in Memphis and grew up in Greenville, Mississippi. She has lived all over the country but now–except when teaching in the mid-Atlantic states–lives happily in Austin. The author of six novels–including The Track of Real Desires and Daddy’s Girl–she has also written three books of nonfiction: Crossed Over: A Murder, A Memoir, about her friendship with Karla Faye Tucker who was executed for murder by the state of Texas in 1998; Her Dream of Dreams: The Life and Triumph of Madam C.J. Walker, and Harriet Tubman: Imagining a Life, a biographical portrait of the great American hero. She has also published work in such periodicals as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Granta, The New York Times, and Redbook, and is the recipient of an NEA grant, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence. She teaches at George Mason University in the MFA program, and is the current Julia Kratz Writer in Residence at Goucher College.
Tell us about the nonfiction book you are currently writing, as you serve as visiting professor at Goucher. And why does the material move you?
I am working on –and under contract to write–a book about a currently unsolved case of multiple murder in Austin, in which four young girls were herded to the rear storage room of an I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt shop, where they were forced to strip naked, then were shot dead one by one, their bodies burned, for the most part, beyond recognition. This occurred in 1991, and is one of those crimes that shocks an entire community and changes it forever. (I use present tense on purpose, since the murders still haunt the town.) Almost 20 years ago, Austin was about half the size it is now, much more laid back and easygoing, to be sure, but not the hippie paradise many imagined it to be. The most consistent comment I hear about murders from residents is, “We lost our Innocence then.” I question the truth of this but they don’t budge from that certainty.
Do you already know which book you’ll write next?
A novel, I hope. I have written a train wreck of one already. Who knows if I’ll go back to it. Train wrecks are hard to revisit. Lotta twisted metal to unbend and separate.
What is your writing schedule like, when you are balancing teaching and book building?
Not easy. If I was writing fiction, I’d just get up and do a few hours’ work. Writing a book requiring research, interviews, study, is way different. When writing a nonfiction book, I start out with an exhaustive timeline, into which I feed quotes, statistics, information and–maybe most importantly–my own comments. Which, in the end, provide the narrative line. Eventually. The timeline of the new book now takes up about 140 pages. Will probably end up 200 or so. Exhaustive. I said.
Do you find that it’s more difficult (or somehow easier) to write about events in Texas when you’re spending time out of your home state?
Not especially. Once I start reading my notes or the trial transcripts, I’m there. No matter in which city or state I sit reading.
What do you like most about Baltimore?
Oh, the openness of the people and the ease I’ve found getting around. The biggest problem I’ve had coming to know the city is the weather. The first two months I was here were all about snow and ice. Not great for long walks around Fells Point or Mount Vernon. Or anywhere else. I like the food, the casualness. It’s a city that, as far as I can tell (and this is presumptuous of me even to make a comment since I’ve been here only three and a half months) that seems needlessly apologetic. I keep running across people who make comments that seem to say, “Well, we’re not DC, or Philadelphia, or New York…” Do people really feel that way? I’m not sure. I belong to the Waverly Y, where I’ve met a lot of warm and lively women in the locker room. That’s been nice. The lifeguards remain cheerful despite raucous kids and the boringness of sitting staring at the water for hours at a time. And I love the Waverly farmers’ market. I was in New York last weekend and Saturday morning remembered I was missing it and felt sad. I listen to WTMD which reminds me of the Austin public radio station, KUT. Also love the Charles Theater even though I haven’t had time to go very often. And the Belvedere Market, where the cappuccinos are particularly good, and the people exceptionally pleasant and helpful. They also sell a mean vegan brownie, tasty even for us omnivores. I have bought four Beaumont Pottery mugs there so far, and had planned to go up to the place where they throw the pots but may not make it. Also like the Dell in Wyman Park, where my little dog Walter and I have made many friends, he many more than I. I’m crazy about the apartment I sublet from Merrill Feitell also, which has three great windows overlooking Calvert. Fells Point may seem touristy to others but I love walking around there, purely love it. Wish I had time to go back a hundred more times. Marion Winik introduced me to the hot yoga classes at Charm City Yoga. I have railed endlessly against hot yoga. But hey, I’m in a new town. Might as well experience what’s going down. I also like the way the people dress in Baltimore. Much more fancifully and colorfully than its sister city, DC, where fashion is a steady stream of black. I can sit at an outside table at my neighborhood coffee hangout, Donna’s, and watch people swing by endlessly, and find young mothers particularly daring and softly happy in their dress. I know that racial problems exist in Baltimore but find attitudes much more congenial here than in DC, where I have lived for a number of years in my peripatetic life.
Biggest Baltimore turnoff? Or least favorite aspect of life in Baltimore.
The weather, which Baltimore can’t help. For reasons cited above. Oh, and I forgot another good thing. The Eddie’s near me has great crab cakes.
Which classes are you teaching at Goucher, and how has your experience been at the school?
I am the Julia Kratz Writer-in-Residence and am teaching a fiction workshop. I have had a fine time with the students, and their work has been a steady source of admiration and respect. They are a great group. We read most of the stories in last year’s Best American Short Stories, chosen by Richard Russo, the discussions of which the students did as much to lead as I did. I love teaching fiction and mostly get hired in nonfiction posts, so this has been a treat. I’ve been invited to come back next spring and have accepted.