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  • Q&A with Gina DiPonio, 2011 Friedman Award winner

    Interview by Ben Kowalski

    Gina DiPonio won the David Friedman Memorial award in 2011 for her piece "Then There Were Three." She is now the program manager for University of Chicago's Writer's Studio. She also teachers in the Master of Liberal Arts program at University of Chicago and the Professional and Liberal Studies Program at Roosevelt University. Aside from Hair Trigger, DiPonio's work has been published in The Sun, Three Hawks Review, and Contrary Magazine. She has also published journalistic work on ExploreChicago.com and in Traverse: Northern Michigan's Magazine.

    Hair Trigger spoke with Gina DiPonio about working in journalism, her current novel project, and how deadlines can be a positive thing.

    Ben Kowalski: You've mostly worked in creative writing, but you've also done some journalistic work. What inspired you to do that?

    Gina DiPonio: I’ve always been drawn to writing and I wanted to try a bunch of different styles and genres. When I first started out, I was interested in literary nonfiction so I thought that writing for magazines would be the way to get there. But I often felt that writing an assignment like that—writing in a more commercial [way], often to promote a product or to meet the voice of the magazine or the newspaper—didn’t appeal to me as much, even though I still like that. I find fiction, creative nonfiction, and personal essays...can be more interesting, [and give] you more room to play.

    BK: How does the journalistic experience affect your creative writing?

    GD: One powerful lesson from journalistic writing is getting a piece done. Having that deadline forces you to give it your best shot and just get it out. That can be a struggle with creative writing if you aren’t working on a deadline and there’s no one waiting for you. Having a deadline taught me how to complete pieces.

    BK: What creative writing projects are you working on, if any?

    GD: The main thing I’m working on is a novel about three women, each traveling alone through Europe. [It’s also about] exploring the stages of a woman's life through the vehicle of these three women.

    BK: What inspired you to write that?

    GD: I mostly write personal essays and memoir, but I want to fictionalize more. [When I started writing about a] seventeen-year-old young woman traveling through Europe and [having] a bunch of adventures, I thought, “Let me try to not make it about me. Let me try to fictionalize it.” From there, I took my experience and thought about two other women of different ages, one of which is where I am now—in [her] mid- to late-thirties—and one is older. [I] take my experiences and extend them and reflect on them and play with them to see what more I [can] develop from [them]. That’s been fun, too, because it’s taken away the danger of hurting people I want to write about.

    BK: How did winning the Friedman Award affect your writing career?

    GD: It’d be so great if I could say right now, “That award was the stepping stone to everything that’s come since.” I don’t know about that—but it was very validating and meant a great deal to me, especially [as] part of a community of so many excellent writers. writers. It also told me that the memoir that I was working on was working, at least in part. It validated the specific work that I was doing and helped me feel encouraged to keep going with it.


    Ben Kowalski is a BA Nonfiction senior at Columbia College Chicago, creative nonfiction writer, copy editor and contributor at the award-winning Columbia Chronicle (2015), and music critic at Pop'stache.com (2014–2015). Ben is currently working on an essay collection about music, and his album reviews can be found at http://popstache.com/author/bkowalski/.