CWL Senior Alison Gamache

Creative writer Alison Gamache. Photo by Sasha Hill.

Santa Fe University of Art and Design seniors are all preparing for graduation and life beyond college. For Creative Writing and Literature students, this means working on senior manuscripts, graduate school applications and job searches. Jackalope Magazine sits down with CWL senior Alison Gamache to discuss what inspires her and her future with writing. She has been working with the local arts collective Meow Wolf for two years now–since the installation process of Meow Wolf’s first permanent art exhibition, The House of Eternal Return, began. Gamache, whose tracks are nonfiction and fiction, will graduate from SFUAD in December 2017.






Jackalope Magazine: Why Santa Fe?

Alison Gamache: Well, I’ve lived here…it’ll be eight years in November. I moved here in 2011 with an ex boyfriend who was a particle astrophysicist. We moved from Los Angeles. We were living in Switzerland before that because he was working on the Hardon Collider. I was kind of following him around and then, finally, after being here a couple of years, he wanted to go back to Wisconsin. I said ‘I wanna stay here.’ There was all this artistic magical realism that was happening in the desert and it was really pulling the best possible creative spirit out of me. And then I just decided to stay and continue to dig into it.

SFUAD happened where it was sort of just here and I didn’t want to leave Santa Fe. And, though the institution proved not to be great, all the professors and all of the people I’ve met that I’ve gotten to work with have just blown the doors wide open on my ability to create.


When did you decide to go to school for writing?

I had decided that I was going to get a business degree. So I have a two-year business degree, which was focused a lot of entrepreneurial things. I was thinking, ‘I want a job where I can make money but also something that I enjoy.’ And then after I graduated with that I realized that my love for writing and literature far surpases the practicality of business. So I just decided to go back and do what I wanted to do. I think I made the right decisions. I think you’re always kind of questioning toward the end of your degree if you’ve made the right decisions as you start to descend into madness. But I think that I did; I think I made the right decision.


Have you always been a writer?

Yeah, since Kindergarten actually. My first poem I ever wrote was ‘Taking a stroll down by the lake, when came along a giant snake, I screamed and screamed but it did not help, closer closer closer yelp!’ Because it was a nightmare. Write about what scares you, right? It was snakes. But yeah, and my mom’s a librarian and her older sister is a librarian, so I spent all of my childhood just reading and reading and reading and reading. I was like the fifth grader who was reading, like, Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles or something. I think I’ve always been a writer. That’s always been what I’ve been good at.

Senior CWL student Alison Gamache releases the pent up tension of publishing her senior book. Photo by Sasha Hill.


Is there a certain process you have to follow when writing?

For me, it’s been a lot about finding a place to write. My house no longers serves me as a good place to write, because I just want to sleep in my bed. I found, for me, that the most beneficial way to start writing is just to sit down and do it. Obviously, somewhere where there’s coffee. I just get coffee and sit down and say, ‘you have to for an hour.’ And usually that will move into something else. And actually…Now Write!, the writing exercise book we used in the [advanced] creative nonfiction class…I still use that every day. I start with a writing exercise every single day.

I needed to just take a stick of dynamite and open my brain. I even tried picking a writing exercise and doing it three times a week, because your mood changes so much that you get a drastically different result. But I really like that one where you take a snapshot and do so many words for the snapshot, so now every single day, too, I try to take a photo and write for 15 minutes about what that was and where I was…Just doing it every day is good. If can stare at my phone for 15 minutes on Facebook, I can write.


How have the themes and subjects in your writing changed over time?

I think that, in the last two years, I really started to dig into not just the surface level of what made me a person, but really deep into, like, the traumas or the emotional experiences that maybe, at first, I didn’t recognize as being profound to who I was. Now I can look back at experiences that happened when I was a child that might have made me uncomfortable, or interactions that I saw at weird places when I was growing up, and I’ve started to really unpack those things. So I feel like my writing has gotten much deeper into the root of myself and humans and how we grow; the things that change us [as] opposed to surface-level nature and the feeling that it gives you. I think I started to realize that I need to write for me and stop thinking, ‘my mom will read this, she’ll kill me.’ I’m going to be graduating with this degree and I need to not be afraid of my mom reading everything I write…because she knows. I opened a lot more emotional doors with my work, which is cool.


What makes you up as a human? What inspires you?

What I said earlier; human roots. My roots. They’re so different for everyone. And for me, really looking back on those has definitely changed who I’ve been a lot in the last couple of years. And I think, also, though I don’t talk about it a lot, advocacy for mental wellness and mental health. Just because, growing as a person for me…I was diagnosed as bipolar like a decade ago, that really made me look into myself and find ways to unpack your feelings and emotions in a healthy and safe way. And that has helped me unpack things that I write about in a healthy and safe way. Also just being outside. That’s something that I’ve talked to a lot of artists about, is the magic in the desert and how it’s just constantly inspiring; the sunsets that are always happening, the colors, the way that the rain smells when it falls in the dirt. There’s a lot of sensory stuff here.


What do you like to read?

Well, I mean, I feel like we’ve been reading two novels a week for our lit classes for the last two years. But I, most recently, have been digging back into Neruda, like all of Pablo Neruda’s collections. I’m stunned by powerful lines right now, and poetry hasn’t always been a favorite of mine, so powerful lines….quality over quantity I’ve been trying to dig into. So I’ve been reading a lot of Neruda.

And honestly I’m reading a lot of Stephen King again, which is weird. And sometimes they’re pretty easy to get through, apart from everything we’ve been reading…I’ve been mostly just trying to write. Not so much reading. But I’ve been reading a lot of Neruda and Stephen King lately, which are two totally different things.

Alison Gamache graduates in December 2017. Photo by Sasha Hill.

What has the experience of working on your senior book been like?

The process for me has been a little chaotic, trying to figure out what fits together and how things were going to go thematically, since my writing is so different. But I finally titled it! It’s going to be called This Close to the Sky. And it’s just going to be dealing a lot with the themes of human roots, self-exploration, a lot of it takes place in the southwestern United States and other places I’ve called home, like Minnesota, and places where I have family. Because I’ve done a lot of traveling and been a lot of places, it centers a lot around the feeling of traveling and self-discovery.


What do you do at Meow Wolf?

I have been working with Meow Wolf for almost two years now since the installation. I just got back from a business trip in Denver, which is one of our potential markets. And I’m actually using my journalism skills, which is crazy. I’m meeting with, like, 20 artists in two days. I go up and I have a photographer and we meet with artists, talk about what inspires them to be an artist, talk about their art, get pictures with them. That was a really cool business trip. I’m doing things like artist bios right now. Mostly internally for the company, but I’m also doing a series, which will come out in October, on different artists within the Meow Wolf company. And instead of talking about Meow Wolf as a whole, I’m talking about the really cool artists and people who make up the moving parts.

And it sounds like, hopefully by December, I’ll be writing narrative for the new exhibit, wherever that is. So wherever our new market is, I will hopefully be working on stories for that…So what I’m working on, as far as a narrative component for Meow Wolf, is thinking about ways in the future that we can connect our current exhibit to totally new exhibits and markets. So that’s all in the works. I think right now it’s just kind of chaotic. But in November, I’ll be full-time there.


How has working at Meow Wolf influenced your writing?

I think that it gave me something to write about. It was something that was so up and coming and people were so eager to know so much about it, that I was able to write, like start freelancing stories about what we were doing. And it was really awesome because I was in on it. It’s like, when a group of people runs that deep, it’s hard for someone to just come in and brush the surface on it. My first ever published magazine article came out about a year ago and that was a Meow Wolf thing. That was the first time I’d really been in a glossy print magazine. It was a magazine out of Newport Beach called BL!SS Magazine. And that’s the first time I really worked with a photographer and wrote a story— you know, besides in school. It was cool.

It’s just given me creative freedom. It’s very strange, like I have assignments, but I have creative freedom to do whatever I want to do. Watching how everything is growing and morphing, like different story ties and going to different music festivals, it just gives me a lot to write about and it’s a lot of creative inspiration. So I’m excited about that.

I’m still adjusting to it. I’m adjusting to not really having someone that I report to. I just want Julia [Goldberg] to read and edit everything that I do still. I mean it’s kind of the same, like I’m generating ideas. But I’m getting paid for them. And it’s cool, it changes the priority. I like being able to write a word and know I’m being paid for that word. It’s weird to just think that I’ve been going to school for this, and it’s what I’ve wanted to do for so long and I will be making a living off of it in like two months.


If you could pick a class that has really impacted you at SFUAD, what would it be?

Advanced Nonfiction. That was it. That was the craziest class. I felt like I was being exorcised of all of these topics and themes and things that I had refused to reach into and were like brewing inside of me. I think it took getting comfortable with all of us reading those things and Julia [Goldberg] being such a great professor. That class just did it for me. I always thought that I was going to want to be a fiction person. It wasn’t until Julia really came into my life, as the nonfiction person, that I realized creative nonfiction is where it’s at.