The Five-Minute Interview: English Professor and Author Courtney Brkic

Posted: May 17, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

Courtney Brkic
Courtney Brkic

Courtney Brkic, associate professor of creative writing in the Department of English, is a first-generation American of Croatian descent. Her memoir, “The Stone Fields: An Epitaph for the Living,” describes her time with survivors of the 1991-95 wars in the former Yugoslavia and as a forensic archaeologist with victims of the 1995 Srebrencia massacre in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2004, the book also tells the history of her Croatian family during World War II.

Her translations of Croatian Expressionist poet A.B. Simic have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation, and her short story collection, “Stillness,” was awarded a Whiting Writer’s Award.

Brkic, who grew up in Arlington, Va., and graduated from Yorktown High School, joined the Mason faculty last fall.

She studied archaeology as an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary, and worked in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a forensic archaeologist and for the U.S. International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague and Physicians for Human Rights. She received an MFA in 2001 from New York University.

Brkic is the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship to research women in Croatia’s war-affected population, as well as a New York Times Fellowship.

For the five-minute interview, we asked her to complete the sentences below.

The way I ended up at Mason is … It is kind of funny how I ended up at Mason. My mother was a graduate student here, and she loved Mason. Because I’m from Virginia, and specifically from Northern Virginia, I was always aware of Mason, and I always wanted to come back to this area. I was watching the job boards like a hawk. When the position opened up, I thought, ‘Wow, that would be really great.’

Before I came to Mason I was … at Kenyon College in Ohio. I was there two and a half years, in creative writing and literature. It was good, it was nice. It is a small, liberal arts college in a beautiful part of Ohio. But I am definitely a city person. That is what I really missed.

My favorite thing about Mason is … the diversity. You know, as much as I liked Kenyon College, it was very homogeneous. Having grown up in Arlington, I am used to being in a multicultural place. For me, that is the greatest thing. I pass people here all the time talking in all kinds of languages. I think that is wonderful.

Some of the exciting things going on now at Mason are … I think very specifically, in my corner of the department, they have done a lot of hiring. They have sort of maintained the best of what the department had, and they have also infused it with new people and new ideas. It is an exciting time to be in the writing program because there is a lot that is in flux. But there is a strong core. It is a very good place for me to be.

My philosophy of working with others is … again this relates to creative writing, always keeping in mind there is no right or wrong, sort of honoring the gray area. What I try to teach myself and my students in classes is that there is no template they should follow. Ultimately, the writer decides what’s right for the writer’s work.

My idea for the book “The Stone Fields” came from … I had been writing it for years. I don’t know if it came about in one moment. It was something I wanted to do for a long time. My dad wanted to write about his experiences in the second World War, and just never did. It was an outgrowth of his desire to do that.

Some of the feedback or highlights from “The Stone Fields” were … A few years ago my United Kingdom publisher arranged for me to do a reading in Zagreb (Croatia). My dad and I sat down and translated part of a short story that I wrote. That was great. My family there doesn’t speak English. I gave them copies of the book, but they don’t really understand fully what it is. At the reading my best friend was there, my aunts were there, people I worked with were there. Most of them don’t speak a word of English. They got to hear what I do. That was probably one of the highlights for me.

The last book I enjoyed or read is … “Time of the Doves,” about the Spanish Civil War, in preparation for next semester.

My favorite television shows are … actually they are English comedy shows, “Green Wing” and a show called “Black Books.” They are far superior to anything on American TV. They sometimes show them on BBC America late at night. The sad thing about BBC America is the best things they show are from 2 to 6 a.m. I haven’t figured it out.

What I am working on now … is a novel and a collection of short stories. The novel is about life on a small Croatian island, and one of the characters comes to the United States.

If I wasn’t talking to you now, I would be … writing, hopefully.

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