photo credit: Greg Damron
Alicia J. Rouverol was born and raised in California. Her first co-authored book, “I Was Content and Not Content”: The Story of Linda Lord and the Closing of Penobscot Poultry (2000), was called “a compassionate and sorely needed book” by The New York Times. It was also nominated for the Oral History Book Award. In 2008, she received a grant for emerging writers from the Elizabeth George Foundation for her prison project, Trying To Be Good: Lessons From a Penitentiary, also nominated for the Helen and Martin Schwartz Humanities Prize. Her documentary work has been funded by grants from the James Irvine Foundation, California Council for the Humanities, Marin Community Foundation, Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, various arts and humanities councils, and housed in archives across the country, most recently in the Library of Congress and UC-Berkeley. She has taught oral history at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies and UNC’s Southern Oral History Program. Her academic articles have been published nationally and internationally and translated. Her nonfiction has appeared in The Independent and Island Journal, and she has been a contributing writer for and a contributing reviewer for The Christian Science Monitor. She has also served as a reader and worked for Narrative Magazine. She is currently a Creative Writing PhD student and Presidential Doctoral Scholar at the University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing. Her fiction focuses on many of the issues she explored previously through folklore, oral history and nonfiction: worker culture, time and the effects of economic decline. She is now at work on two novels, Dry River and The Other Side of Darwin.

–Spring 2014

Everything we want to think we are we usually aren’t.

I grew up in a family of writers and activists. Too reclusive for the latter, I was drawn to the former. At age eight—while living in Corsica—I read voraciously and wrote plays and later poetry and short stories.

We read Shakespeare aloud in my family as a child. Entire plays, with everyone taking a role. I never realized that was unusual until I reviewed David Lipsky’s Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace and learned that in the Wallace household, everyone read—together in the same room.

Do those of us who do so become writers?

Growing up in the Bay Area in the '60s and '70s, I swiftly plotted my departure—I took flight to Canada first, where I studied everything but writing for a year, and then discovered sailing, and then fell in love and went to the other side of the country, equally swiftly, and then from there, I went sailing in the West Indies, where for two years I buried myself in boats.

While circumnavigating North America by plane, boat, and Greyhound Bus, I wrote. Landlocked in Maine, I studied writing with poet and publisher Constance Hunting. Then I met folklorist Sandy Ives, who catalyzed in me this love of story.

Folklore was to be my day job; it ended up a twenty-year career track.

All the while, I drafted novel after novel, none of them right.

And then in 2000, I wrote a book called "I Was Content and Not Content": The Story of Linda Lord and the Closing of Penobscot Poultry, with Cedric Chatterley and Stephen Cole, about one woman’s experience of plant closure in coastal Maine.

Linda Lord was a poultry worker at the local plant in Belfast, ten miles from where I lived. Cedric had begun photodocumenting Linda, who was to be featured in our exhibition and later the book. I’d seen his images, but I’d not yet met Linda.

“You know Linda lives next door,” Cedric announced one day, when he stopped by to work.

“You’re joking, right?”

“No, I’m not,” he said.

Look at page 43. (This necessitates buying the book, of course!) Notice the square boxes depicting windows on the other side of Linda’s plasticized porch. Little known fact: for a time I lived in one of those boxes, the windows of my room facing Linda’s home.

Maybe it was the confluence of events, but the book landed in The New York Times Book Review and was nominated for an Oral History Association Book Award.

Second book syndrome set in. I left my job at the Southern Oral History Program to write. I moved West. I wrote tens of thousands of words this time, got an agent (a fabulous one). Won an Elizabeth George Foundation grant for emerging writers. I got my first paid writing gig for that lasted precisely one year.

And then everything changed—completely—once it looked as if it might actually be headed in a positive writing direction.

photo credit: Greg Damron
I was told my prison project, Trying To Be Good: Lessons in a Penitentiary, couldn’t “go the distance.” I dropped the article I’d been invited to write on the project for Narrative Magazine.

Nothing worked. I couldn’t seem to go the distance.

And then something strange happened.

On a dare from a friend, I signed onto National Novel Writing Month and drafted Dry River. For the past year and a half, I have worked steadily on the book. It might not yet sing, but it is the beginning of a song.

Things are better now. I write book reviews for The Christian Science Monitor. I am a reader at Narrative Magazine. I write daily. I am starting an MFA program. I am developing another nonfiction proposal. I have landed a day job. I am spending time with my girls.

Life continues, it gets richer, and when the book I’m writing is right, you'll get to read it too.

–Fall 2010

Alicia aka "The Book Worm" at the School Fair

Selected Works