Born in Macon, Georgia, to Mac Hyman and Gwendolyn Holt Hyman, Gwyn grew up in south Georgia in the small town of Cordele, not far from Plains. Her father was a writer himself and published the bestseller No Time for Sergeants in 1954 when he was only 31 years old. It was turned into a popular play and film, starring Andy Griffith.
Upon graduating from Florida State University with a B.A. in English, Gwyn joined the Peace Corps serving in Costa Rica and working as a preschool program coordinator and teacher in a village, without running water or electricity, near the Panamanian border. She married her husband, Angel, also a volunteer, six months after her arrival. They have been married now for 30 years.
Gwyn's youth was spent frantically running from her father's vocation -- seeking any other occupation -- because she felt the stress of writing had precipitated his early death of a heart attack at the age of 39. Throughout the 1970s, one job followed another until the couple wound up in 1980 in Berea, Kentucky.
In 1983 Gwyn could not longer run away from writing, from the realization that this was what she was meant to do. Therefore, she applied and was accepted into the M.F.A. Program for Creative Writing at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. Not until her graduation in 1986 did she dedicate herself completely to writing.
Gwyn's collection of short stories, Sharing Power, was nominated for a Pushcart Press Editors' Book Award. Her short fiction has been published and anthologized around the country. Her short story "Little Saint" received the Cecil Hackney Literary Award for first prize in the National Short Story Competition and later appeared in Prairie Schooner. She has received grants from the Kentucky Arts Council and from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. In July, 1998, her first novel was published by Viking/Penguin. Highlighted in Time magazine by Barnes & Noble, Icy Sparks was one of several novels chosen to represent "The Next Wave of Great Literary Voices" in the Discover Great New Writers program.
Gwyn and her husband have lived in Kentucky for over 20 years. Most of the time, they have lived in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in the small town of Berea. In 2001 they moved to Versailles, Kentucky.
Biography courtesy of the author's official web site.
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"As a former Peace Corps and Vista volunteer, I believe in giving something back to the community. I have volunteered at a respite care center for those suffering from dementia; I have worked with mentally challenged and emotionally disturbed children; I have served on the Board of Directors of the New Opportunity School for Women in Berea, Kentucky. Currently, I am a member of a group of Kentucky authors trying to educate the public about the terrible consequences of mountain top removal -- a destructive form of strip mining coal."
"I like to cook because it relaxes me; therefore, I do a lot of it when I'm trying to unwind from my writing. My husband brags that my Cuban pork roast is out of this world."
"I dislike rude drivers, cell phone users in restaurants, and moviegoers who chomp popcorn in my ear while I'm trying to listen to dialogue."
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In the summer of 2005, Gwyn Hyman Rubio took some time out to talk with us about some of her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Growing up in rural Georgia with a writer for a father, I saw the glories and miseries of the writing life up close. My father was Mac Hyman, who wrote the bestselling novel, No Time for Sergeants, published in 1954 when he was only thirty-one years old.
His novel was adapted into a play, running on and off Broadway for over seven years, made into a movie, and translated into twelve languages. Millions of copies were sold. I saw my father soar, achieve fame and success with the publication of his first novel, and saw this same success destroy him. I looked on as writer's block stilled his talent. I watched him drink to excess and smoke one Marlboro after another until his fingertips turned yellow. I listened while he nervously ground his teeth. I observed his body growing thinner and thinner. He had three stomach ulcers when he died of a massive heart attack on the evening of July 17, 1963, at the young age of 39. He had just completed arrangements by telephone to go to Hollywood the next day to work on television sketches from No Time for Sergeants, and we had been hopeful that this job would jumpstart his writing.
In the obituaries, they called him a humorist in the tradition of Mark Twain, but at the end of his short life, he was no longer funny. In the years that followed my father's death, I vowed never, never, never to become a writer. For if my father was miserable in spite of his good fortune with No Time for Sergeants, I wondered what horror would occur if a writer worked hard but failed to get published. A writer was damned if she did, damned if she didn't, I concluded. In other words, I decided to avoid this no-win situation at all costs, and fled from writing until my mid-thirties -- when I realized that I could no longer run from what I was meant to do. Therefore, I can honestly say that No Time for Sergeants has most influenced my life and career as a writer.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?
I'm an eclectic reader, and have more than ten favorite books. I have pages and pages of favorite books, but because you've insisted on just ten, I'll list the first ones that spring to mind.
Into Their Labours, the trilogy by John Berger comprised of Pig Earth, Once in Europe, and Lilac and Flag -- The beauty of the prose in Into their Labours is breathtaking. Unique, daring, and far-reaching in its epic design, this trilogy establishes Berger as one of the most humane and brilliant writers of our time. He loves, fights for, and writes about a rural way of life that is quickly disappearing. With almost unbearable tenderness, he describes the peasant -- the common man -- and for this I admire and adore him. If I knew where he lived in the French Alps, I would camp out in his front yard, wait for him to step out of his house, and throw myself at his feet in adoration.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald -- A flawless, beautiful novel, which depicts the meretriciousness of upper class society and -- in these material times -- makes us see the emptiness of a life devoted to monetary gain.
The Life & Times of Michael K. and Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee -- Coetzee's prose is clean and clutter free, but his vision is complex and caring. Toward the end of The Life and Times of Michael K., which is about a South African man struggling to survive apartheid, I found myself weeping -- loud, anguished sobs over the plight of the poor, the lost, the lonely. I cried just as fiercely when I finished Disgrace.
A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams -- The language of Tennessee Williams's plays is pure poetry. He understands and loves his female characters, and I appreciate this sensibility in a man. Beneath the fragile facade of Southern manners, the lives of his characters are steeped in frustration and loneliness and often ripped apart by violence. Along with Eugene O'Neill, he is one of my favorite American playwrights.
A Good Man Is Hard to Find (short stories) by Flannery O'Connor -- I grew up in Cordele, Georgia -- not far from Milledgeville where O'Connor lived on the family farm. She writes about the rural South, its misfits, and the intense, complicated relationship which Southerners have with God. She has a talent for the absurd. Her humor is droll; her prose, acerbic and unsparing; her vision, disturbing and unflinching. She is one of the best writers the South has produced.
Cemetery Nights by Stephen Dobyns -- Darkly humorous and brilliantly insightful, this is an audacious collection of poems. Some readers might be unnerved and frightened by this collection, but great art should make us uncomfortable. It should push us beyond our illusions and make us face our true selves.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte -- This is an intense, vividly imagined story about obsessive love. As a young girl, I was riveted by its romantic drama, the fact that Heathcliff loved Cathy long after her death. A few years ago, while working on The Woodsman's Daughter, which is also gothic in nature, I reread it and was struck at once by the power of its prose and by its unusual structure. I understood then why it is considered a finer novel than Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, which I also admire.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov -- Nabokov broke every rule in the writer's handbook when he wrote Lolita. It is amazing that he wrote it in English, his adopted tongue, and that he was able to make Humbert Humbert, a pedophile, sympathetic.
Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles -- This is an oddly structured book, which contains no plot, but is filled with quirky characters and a sharp, bittersweet wit.
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers -- McCullers was born in Columbus, Georgia, northwest of my hometown. She writes about lonely, isolated people -- about the inevitable outcast in a triad of three.
In My Father's House by Ernest J. Gaines -- Gaines is an African-American writer who writes honestly and courageously about racism in the rural South. He does not hesitate in this novel to take a stand on the importance of both societal and personal responsibility in his analysis of race relations.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
Next to reading, my favorite pastime is watching movies with my husband. The director I most admire is Krzysztof Kieslowski. John Berger calls him "a real novelist of the cinema because he thinks about the consequences of actions." His magnificent Trois Couleurs: Bleu, Blanc, Roug reminds me of Berger's trilogy in the compassionate way it explores the experience of being human.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I like all music -- jazz the most -- but I work in silence because music distracts me.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
I recently finished Coetzee's The Master of Petersburg, and loved it because it is told from Dostoevsky's point of view and explores the relationship between art and life. In this novel, Coetzee shows us that the best of any writer is found in his/her art.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
On the serious side, books of poetry and literary fiction. On the lighter side, cookbooks and mysteries.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I try to write every day. My rule of thumb is four hours or five pages -- whatever comes first. I always have a thesaurus and dictionary on my desk when I work. My first draft is written on a computer, and my revisions are done in longhand in pencil on yellow, legal-sized paper, which I staple to my typed, manuscript pages, to be plugged in later. This process is repeated over and over until I'm satisfied with what I've done.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
It took me ten years and three shelved novels before I broke in with Icy Sparks. Icy Sparks was published in 1998, and received substantial recognition for a first novel -- including being chosen as a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers book and a New York Times Notable Book of 1998. Still though, at the end of three years, its sales were modest, and I became increasingly worried about how to keep it in print. Then came the call from Oprah -- which changed everything.
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be–and why?
There are so many talented writers working hard to break through. One needs a fire in the belly to persevere in this business, but also a little bit of luck. Two talented writers who deserve to break through with first novels are Bill Pitts from my hometown of Cordele, Georgia, and Regina Villiers, my good friend from Cincinnati.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Don't give up. Write. Write. Write. Write because you love the process, not because you must get published. If you continue to produce, you will eventually break in with a book.
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