An Interview With Megan Baxter

By Editorial Assistant Sunset Combs


Image courtesy of Megan Baxter

Megan Baxter writes about familial and natural connections through contemplations on cultivation, the body, and home. She is the author of The Coolest Monsters: Essays (Texas Review Press, 2018), Farm Girl: A Memoir (Green Writers Press, 2021), and her forthcoming essay collection, Twenty Square Feet of Skin (Ohio State Press, 2022). She currently teaches writing at Colby-Sawyer College and Southern New Hampshire University. Editorial Assistant Sunset Combs recently reached out to Baxter to talk about her essay “Green Thumb,” published in the 2021 Fall/Winter issue of Colorado Review.

Sunset Combs: In “Green Thumb” you write very lyrically about the connections between the human and nonhuman world. I’d be interested to know how this interconnectedness drives your creative nonfiction. Does the natural world inspire your lyricism? How do you see the natural world’s connection to your writing style and yourself as a writer? 

Megan Baxter: The natural world has always been a place for deep meaning and connection for me. I’ve drawn most of my personal symbolism from it over the years that I’ve worked on farms and lived in rural places. I pay attention. It’s not a deliberate thing, more of a personality trait. When you work in the soil, you get used to seeing little things—footprints, frost formations, feathers. Each of these contains both narrative and practical information. Nonfiction, more than any other genre, offers the greatest opportunity to explore interconnectedness, the linking of the self to the broader world. That my universe is also that of the farm fields and woodlots reflects my choice of home as well as my fascination with the natural world.

SC: The narrator’s search for self through gardening in “Green Thumb” is striking because it explores a return to home, but not a childhood home, rather a return to the “green cathedral.” Is this idea of home and longing something you explore in your other work? 

MB: Yes, I’ve always been searching for homes. As a girl, I built tents and tree houses in the woods, trying to create my own space. I’ve lived in many places, but I’m always interested in how I connect with the specific landscape. Some places feel very foreign to me, like deserts, but I like that feeling too because it’s a place built by contrast. I think part of this idea of home is built around wanting to have my own small farm, which requires a sort of longevity and permanence. Houses and home are both themes in much of my other work.

SC: Your attention to photographs in your piece serves as a bridge between generations. What is it about working with photographs that you think adds to creative nonfiction?

MB: I think photographs serve as bridges in creative nonfiction between the world of the known and that of memory and imagination. A photo itself is a literal reproduction of a scene, but beyond the image, there is this realm of the unknown. With older photos, this is only magnified. The writer doesn’t know what’s past the frame, who held the camera, what the air smelled like and so the creative nonfiction writer has to lean into that magical borderline between their imagination and the facts of the story. In my case, I reference a picture of my grandfather who died before I was born. What I don’t know about the image outweighs what I do know, so the image becomes a sort of question mark that drives the narrative of search through generations.

SC: “Green Thumb” explores the similarities between the narrator and her deceased grandfather, whom she never met but is very similar to. Could you talk about your process of writing about someone you do not know personally, and this connection across generations?

MB: In some ways, I feel like I know my grandfather, but I know him through my mother’s memory. It’s only in her words that I have a sense of who he was, or who she remembers him being. She was eighteen when he died. Many of the things that make me different from my mother she attributes to him, like my sense of humor and my love of working outside. In this essay I wanted to pursue this connection loosely, relying more on the way that a personality is shaped through memory than on research and interview techniques because my relationship with him lives in this dream state between history and family mythology.

SC: “Green Thumb” will appear in your forthcoming collection, Twenty Square Feet of Skin. What does this collection center around, and when will it be published?  

MB: The collection focuses on the body through essays on tattooing, weightlifting, plastic surgery, pedicures, running, and farming. The body’s representation in poetry, painting, and music are also themes. It’s about my quest to understand myself through physicality. I believe that it will be published in late 2022.

Sunset Combs is an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at Colorado State University and an editorial assistant at Colorado Review. She is currently working on a collection of lyric essays surrounding grief, nature, womanhood, and generational spirituality.