TU Alumna Trudy Lewis Shares her Writing Practice

Trudy Lewis (BA ’83) wrote a story every week while at TU. What started as a hobby transformed into an award-winning career dedicated to thoughtful prose. Based on a random weekly topic, Lewis and a friend devised intricate stories. “We would read it and critique it, and then, we went out dancing,” Lewis said. “We had a great ritual.”

As a professor of creative writing at The University of Missouri, Lewis may have kicked off her dancing shoes, but her writing persevered. Her short stories collection, The Bones of Garbo won the Sandstone Prize in short fiction and her novel Private Correspondences won the William Goyen Prize.

As soon as Lewis learned to read, she became a writer. “I cracked that code, and decided ‘wow that’s the most amazing thing. I want to produce that code,’” she said. From science fiction to mid-western novels, Lewis’s talent spans across multiple writing genres, but there are always believable and engaging characters trumpeting her quick-witted dialogue.

In her novel, The Empire Rolls, Lewis’s roller derby loving, park ranger pulls a gun on polluters, which is broadcast on the internet. From there, readers strap on their skates for a winding tale of a crumbling economy, a Bible-toting mother and difficult relationships. The novel is also an homage to the beauty in Missouri. “A lot of it is living in Missouri — the nature here. It’s incredibly lush, and several ecosystems meet here,” she explained.

Although Lewis teaches creative writing, she warns that “the impulse to write a story gets buried under a lot of academic discourse sophistication.” Writing class is not about imposing self-proclaimed literary values on students. Instead, Lewis focuses on plot and structure. For her own writing practice, she meditates to prepare herself to get behind the characters’ eyes. “It’s an immersive experience of being somewhere else but also being totally in the flow,” Lewis said.

After graduating from TU, Lewis went on to receive two master’s degrees from Vanderbilt University and the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Her doctorate degree came from the University of Illinois in Chicago. Lewis maintains that attending TU was the best decision of her life because she was well-prepared for her graduate degrees. The individual attention she received at TU influenced her academic career. “I would write articles for the newspaper, and Dean Thomas Dailey would start talking to me about the article. Where does that happen?” she said.

Her next endeavor is a science fiction story about jellyfish and immortality. Jellyfish reproduce both sexually and asexually, and they can rest in a polyp state indefinitely. With that idea, Lewis creates a world where a corporation can sell immortality. Ethical questions such as when does life begin and end and how humankind is defined foster a sci-fi novel with a philosophical bent.

Lewis keeps an open mind when it comes to her writing. “You can’t pin down the muse, but I keep regular office hours in case she wants to drop by,” she said.