Writing Your City: Scott McWaters’ and Abraham Smith’s Book, Tuskaloosa Kills

Scott McWaters holds a BS in Secondary Education Language Arts from The University of Alabama and an MFA in Fiction from the University of Memphis. He has been an Instructor since 2002 and is a three-time finalist for the University’s Last Lecture Award, as well as a recipient of the department’s Outstanding Teaching Award by an Instructor. McWaters has recently co-authored the book of prose vignettes, Tuskaloosa Kills, with former UA faculty member, Abraham Smith.

Why did you decide to write a book with a partner? What are the advantages that people may not realize?

I think that writers should consider collaborating more. When it works, and maybe it has worked in this book, the other voice becomes like a whetting stone and you can sharpen your own poetry or prose and, perhaps, carve out some new terrain. And it’s fun. This book was a joy to write. I’d forgotten that about writing. After leaving graduate school, writing became tedious for me. It sounds stupid to say now, but I guess I thought I’d get “famous” or be “successful.” And then one day you wake up and you really don’t give a rat’s ass about artistic ambition and so you either stop writing all together or you reconnect with the pure joy of the craft. I mean that. Words are fun. I hope the voice(s) in this book are joyful and funny for some readers to hear.

How did living and working in Tuscaloosa, while writing about Tuscaloosa, shape this book in unexpected ways? Has your writing about Tuscaloosa changed as Tuscaloosa has changed?

Feeling like an exile is good for a writer. I’m thinking of Dante and Joyce, but I know there are many other authors, too. Tuscaloosa can make you feel like an exile. I don’t know if you ever feel at home here. I’ve heard this sentiment from numerous people, many of whom are not attached to the university in anyway. But for me and for what I do, the writer has to learn to make a pilgrimage out of her exile. Maybe writing can lead you back to home.

Do you view your own writing in this book as an expression of art, catharsis, narrative construction, or something else entirely?

It was born out of rage against the 21st century academy combined with a mild annoyance of T-Town Never Down, City of Champions. So I’ll call it a catharsis. I’ve come to think that in our time what we are writing against is propaganda. And propaganda is so pervasive in a society like ours, so there’s actually a lot to write about. Seems to me that places like UA have become huge corporate propaganda machines. Most people know this (I think), but few talk about it openly. UA has glossy magazines, a PR army, and a megaphone. This book is just a little voice crying in the wilderness.

Scott McWatersHow can writers balance passion, sentiment, and emotion in their writing without coming across as being full of self-pity?

I have no idea. The book wasn’t written out of self-pity, but maybe that is actually part of it. I guess the reader has to make that decision. I hope that some find comfort and an amigo in the book’s words. If you feel too comfortable in Tuscaloosa then it’s not the book for you. The passion, sentiment, and emotion that created it certainly are from a place of community, a community of exiles I suppose.

Writing-wise, what is next for you?

I’m in the final stages of editing “A Fundamentalist Bares All.” It’s a prose book, which is also about UA, but this time, I am writing from the perspective of a student.

–Van Newell