Margaret Regan recently completed her time with us as the Library's Writer in Residence. She was the 10th talented author we've hosted and, to celebrate, we sent Margaret a few questions about becoming a writer, her time as a resident, and of course, the books she's currently reading. Enjoy!
How did you become a writer?
I grew up in a big Pennsylvania family that cherished reading and storytelling. Our mother took us to the library every week; at bedtime our father told us stories that he dreamed up himself. My sisters and I liked to write plays and perform them on our backyard porch. In high school, I was co-editor of the school newspaper and realized that writing could confront social injustice; one of my opinion pieces supported the farmworkers’ strike in the faraway west, where I would one day write about immigrants.
I was always interested in language – I majored in French in college and worked as a proofreader in a science institute. After graduation, I landed a job as copy editor at TV Guide, then a best-selling magazine. I edited blurbs about TV shows in both English and in French. Eventually I moved to New York City, where I worked at McGraw-Hill as associate editor for children’s books. It was a fun job but I always thought the authors (and the illustrators) were having even more fun. When my husband got a job in a Pennsylvania college town I got a chance to be a writer myself. The Easton Express hired me to copyedit but I soon switched to writing and reporting. I loved it, everything about it.
We moved to Tucson a few years later, and I started writing for the Tucson Weekly. I’ve had many roles at Weekly over the last 30 years. I’ve always done arts writing for the paper, but at various times I was a general assignment reporter covering everything from urban renewal to education, to immigration and the border, a subject dear to my heart. That reporting eventually led to my two books, The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands and Detained and Deported: Stories of Immigrant Families Under Fire.
What was it like to be the Library's Writer in Residence?
I was surprised and honored to be named the Writer in Residence (WIR), especially since Tucson is blessed with so many writers. It’s a wonderful program that links aspiring writers with published authors to the benefit of both. The aspiring writers get advice from someone with lots of experience writing, and the authors have a chance to share their own work. I had several responsibilities as the WIR. I was to lead three public writing workshops; do consulting meetings one-on-one with writers and aspiring writers; and work in the library doing my own writing. The residency was meant to last three months -- February, March and April-- but unfortunately the Coronavirus pandemic cut it short. I served only a month and a half. Even so, I met marvelous community members working on interesting writing projects. I got to see the hard work of the librarians, and their kindness to the patrons. And the one workshop that I did teach was a success!
What was the workshop?
It was about writing family histories. Many people are really interested in preserving their families’ experiences for future generations, and we got an overflow audience at the Woods Memorial Library. I read from a family history piece of my own, published in the Tucson Weekly for St. Patrick’s Day 2000, about my father and his Irish roots. I also gave tips from the Tom Zoellner book Homemade Biography: How to Collect, Record and Tell the Life Story of Someone You Love. But the best part of the workshop was seeing the students write. I gave them half an hour and they wrote their hearts out. Several told me afterward that they had been thinking of writing their family history for years and were thrilled they had finally put pen to paper.
Are there any memorable moments from your office hours?
Yes! Many! I was at Martha Cooper Library on Monday afternoons and at Himmel Library on Wednesday mornings. I sat in a small study room at each library, and the writers came in one by one for half-hour sessions. I felt like I was watching a play, with a new character taking the stage every 30 minutes, each of them different from the rest. One man was a poker columnist who aspired to write a poker book. A woman who was an award-winning Hollywood script writer wanted tips on editing. A scientist had switched to writing children’s books. A divorced dad wanted to write his family history so that his little boy, who lived far away, could learn about the family he didn’t really know. A woman who was a classical musician wanted to write about the dogs who gave her so much joy. Most touching, perhaps, was the client whose beautifully written short stories were inspired by the time he’d spent in mental hospitals.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Read, read, read, anything and everything. Join a writers’ group, or find a writing buddy, and meet regularly to read your work aloud and get feedback from your pals. Check out programs at the various Pima County Public Library locations – students told me they loved a writers’ group at Dusenberry-River Library. Avail yourself of the next Writer in Residence! Sign up for a writing class: I took an excellent fiction-writing class at Pima Community College; my professor was wonderful and so were my fellow students. Most of all, write! Follow the example of those eager students in the workshop: Open up that laptop, wield your pen, and begin.
What are you reading now?
All of these are available at Pima County Public Library! Reserve your copy today!