Reading with... Ginger Gaffney

photo: Kiva Duckworth-Moulton

Ginger Gaffney is the author of the memoir Half Broke (Norton, February 4, 2020), about her time working with the troubled horses and residents at a prison re-sentencing facility in New Mexico. A top-ranked horse trainer and teacher, Gaffney writes about addiction, incarceration and the transformative effects horses offer to those who are fighting for a sober life outside the prison system.

On your nightstand now:

Travel Light, Move Fast by Alexandra Fuller. I read everything Fuller writes. The way she brings people, animals and the scene and scent of Africa to the page is a constant lesson in craft for me as a writer.

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore is a debut novel set in the west Texas town of Odessa, 1970. Wetmore's characters are the come-to-life, real in-the-dirt characters I love. Wetmore writes about working-class people, race and ranching in such raw, living language. She makes me forget I'm reading fiction.

Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich. I always have a half dozen poetry books on my nightstand, my desk, the living room table. I'm reading Rich again in this #metoo time. In this he, she, they time. She reminds me that we have been here before.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Truth is, I didn't read much. And what I did read, because I know I had to read in school, I don't have any recollection of. I'm pretty sure it is a byproduct of the extreme introversion of my childhood. I didn't speak until I was six or seven. Language was not something I trusted, and I think books were not interesting to me because of that. As my childhood goes, I don't have much memory of it. The one memory I have is an assignment in seventh or eighth grade. Our teacher wanted us to give a report on a book we had read. We each had to stand up and read our report. When it was my turn, I stood up and read the words from Gil Scott-Heron's song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." I'm white, and I lived in a very white town. I don't remember where I heard Gil Scott-Heron perform that early spoken-word song, but the words rang true. I could believe in them.

Your top five authors:

Annie Dillard gave me a spiritual path to memoir. Alice Walker woke me up. Zora Neale Hurston showed me how writing is all about living. Leslie Marmon Silko showed me that same thing in a very different way. Marie Howe and Jane Kenyon give me words to breathe on tough days. Whoops, that is six!

Book you faked reading:

In my freshman English comp class, a nice, crusty old white professor assigned Rudyard Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden." We were to "do some research" and write a short essay about the poem. To be fair, our professor was trying to push and prod us a bit, given he was a devout Quaker and peace activist himself. I did not even fake read it. I took an "F."

Books you're an evangelist for:

We the Animals by Justin Torres. I love how sparse, lyrical and honest Justin's writing is. This book sits in a category all its own.

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. The best book about place, and time, and chance, and change. Should be, and hope it is, a standard for all English majors.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward. If we want to talk about being "woke," then we should read this book.

Book you bought for the cover:

I bought Pam Houston's new book Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country because I love Pam and I love her writing. But, also, I love her dog William, who is on the cover!

Book you hid from your parents:

Intercourse by Andrea Dworkin.

Books that changed your life:

The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt. All three of these books I read during my first few years in college. These are the books which helped me believe in language--after a long, silent childhood.

Favorite line from a book:

"I like to believe that horses were fashioned moments before us, under us. I like to believe that they sprang from the earth snorting, lifting us loose from the imagination of God." --from Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg. Mark writes about horses the way I feel them, and that's a rare find for me.

Five books you'll never part with:

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
What the Living Do by Marie Howe
Power by Linda Hogan
Two or Three Things I Know for Sure by Dorothy Allison
Your Native Land, Your Life by Adrienne Rich

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I would love to read this book again, without knowing anything about writing--but with all the knowledge my body knows from the many years of living.

Writer you would most like to write a song:

Pam Houston.

Songwriter you would most like to write a book:

Mary Chapin Carpenter.

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