Leila Wilson

recorded in Chicago, IL


Paean to Place by Norine Niedecker


Listen More

Other Writers in

Leila Wilson

My name is Leila Wilson and I live in Chicago on the South side. I came here after graduate school. I went to school in Indiana at Bloomington, got my MFA there, and we moved back to Chicago—my boyfriend at the time, now husband—because both of our fathers were in ill health. So, we decided to move back to the area, and I was very concerned about moving back to Illinois. Actually, I was very nervous about moving to Indiana. I lived in Oregon for five years prior to moving to Indiana, I went to undergrad in Oregon and worked there for a year, and going out, Indiana was defined by that slogan they have on their license plate—crossroads of America or something like that. Something about highways and America. [Laughs.]

The Knox Writers’ House

[Laughs.] Right. We’re here to get out of here


That’s exactly right. I ran track when I was little and I always hated driving through Indiana. I would drive from Illinois through Indiana to get to Ohio or Pennsylvania or wherever, and Indiana was always the low point—that had the most awful rest stops, or something. Not a lot to offer in the vending machines. So going to Indiana was really daunting to me. I felt like I was moving back to my parents’ garage, which I didn’t want to do. But after being in Indiana, I think I came to appreciate where I was born and raised—in DeKalb, Illinois. I didn’t live in the countryside, but we lived on the outskirts of town and my imagination was always about expanding beyond my yard or expanding beyond the fields outside of town and my imagination was definitely, totally hinged to that sense of movement, that sense of expansion—trying to understand landscape, how I could get over it, how I could move beyond it, how I could build it up as something different than it was. I see the Midwest in that way. As something that is a tabula rasa, in a way, this thing you can build upon, a sculptural base. I used to lie on my back in my backyard when I was growing up to see the planes leaving. It was a place that I could leave. That sense of extension, expansion and growth and reaching is really important to all of my creative sparks.


But you stayed.


When I was living in Oregon—that poem Tributaries is about that. When I was in Oregon, I felt that things were so dramatic and there was all this gorgeousness, this lushness, this beauty that surrounded me—some of the most beautiful places on Earth, I think, are in Oregon. Columbia Gorge is just perfect, in terms of landscape. The weather, I love—that moist, dark, damp, green—you’re skin felt so clean, it’s healthy, everybody had the right politics, or my politics, but there was nothing I needed to challenge there. I didn’t feel like I had the creative urge there. When I stretched out, when I was expanding, there was something to push me back, that buttressed me, that kept me in. My creative urge really comes from this physical connection to land. There was too much drama there already, I couldn’t create it, I couldn’t’ challenge it. I felt free and I felt wild and I could ride my bike everywhere, and I had a great time, and I learned a ton, but I didn’t feel the necessary resistance that I think is seminal to my creative urge.