Barbara Shoup’s Writer’s Life
Writer / Kara Reibel
“Some Luck: A Fiction Writer’s Journey to a Real Life She Couldn’t Have Imagined” was the theme for a talk given by the Indiana Writers Center (IWC) Executive Director Barbara Shoup to an audience of 350 people at the Third Annual Tri-Club Literary Dinner. The dinner is a joint effort of the Fortnightly Literary Club, The Indianapolis Literary Club and The Indianapolis Women’s Club held at Woodstock Country Club.
In addition to her responsibilities with the IWC, Shoup is a novelist. She has published eight novels, with the latest being a young adult novel, “Looking For Jack Kerouac,” which tells the story of Paul, an Indiana teen who sets out on a road trip to find his idol, Jack Kerouac.
Shoup’s other novels include “Night Watch,” “Wish you Were Here,” “Stranded in Harmony,” “Faithful Women,” “Vermeer’s Daughter,” “Everything You Want” and “An American Tune.” She also writes essays. Her most recent, “Waiting for My Father,” is included in “Every Father’s Daughter,” an anthology edited by Indiana writer Margaret McMullen and recently published by McPherson.
Shoup’s first novel was written when she was in fifth grade. She wrote a story about a slave girl who escapes on the Underground Railroad, only Shoup thought it was like a subway. She even submitted it to a publisher, receiving her first rejection letter at age 11. “I couldn’t wait to learn how to write,” says Shoup. “I loved paper and pens and crayons. I wrote all the time as a child until I received that rejection letter. I was devastated.”
It would be 20 years until Shoup began to write again.
After receiving an elementary education degree and a master’s in secondary education from Indiana University, Shoup taught creative writing to Broad Ripple and North Central high school students for more than 20 years.
“At one point, I knew I was missing something. I love my husband and my girls, but there was something absent in my life,” shares Shoup, who believes you should follow your dreams. Her husband Steve asked her what she wanted to do, and she realized she wanted to be a writer. He simply stated, “Why don’t you?” Her first published novel was “Night Watch.”
The writing process for Shoup takes several years per book, utilizing the early hours of the morning for writing before going to work.
It is a meditation for me. The memoir projects for me are especially that way,” says Shoup of her writing. “It’s a way to find resolution. And when I instruct, I love to watch as people write. It’s an interesting quality of quiet, for I’m not sure where these people are, but they are some place else while all seated in the same room.”
As the Broad Ripple High School Writer In Residence, one writing project was re-writing Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” renaming the lead characters Randy and Crystal. Shoup felt she was learning along with her students.
“I definitely got as much out of it or more than the kids,” shares Shoup. “I love instructing. As these kids are writing, you can actually watch someone think. It’s that moment when you are speaking to a class, and someone gets it. That’s the part that I enjoy the most. Those moments of joy are personal.”
The IWC offers a wide variety of courses for writers of all ages. The IWC facilitates three outreach sites around Indianapolis during the summer including the St. Florian Youth Development Camp, the Concord Neighborhood Center and LaPlaza’s Leadership Institute for Latino Youth.
Their partnerships and connections are vast and unlimited, for they are always open to new creative ideas to foster writing. The goal of the IWC is to help anyone tell their story, for they believe that everyone has a unique story to share. The IWC is successful with their methods of encouraging a large writing community that facilitates the inclusion of anyone regardless of age or background.
“Writing is about writing. It is about what happens to you – the process, the surprises that come along the way, where everything flows,” says Shoup.
Listening to NPR while driving, a commercial came on for “Art of the Matter,” Shoup heard a voice say, “No one knows what it is like to be a writer other than another writer,” and she agreed with the statement, only later realizing it was her own soundbite.
“I was drawn to the IWC because of the community of writers and my love of teaching, but there were no papers to grade,” says Shoup with a smile.
Shoup’s favorite quote is from Garrison Keillor who writes, “Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have got it, you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known.”
What she got was a writing life. But wasn’t that what she always wanted?