Contributor Interview: Sandra K. Barnidge

As part of the launch of our Spring/Summer 2018 issue, Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts, we sat down with contributors to talk about their work in the issue and more. The following interview is part of this series. Please visit our website to see the complete list of contributors to Let Us Gather, to purchase the issue, or to subscribe.


Tell us a little about your work in Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts: what inspired it, how you came to write it, etc.

Years ago, I was driving through rural Minnesota and spotted a sign for Kanaranzi, an unincorporated town that’s home to about 70 people. I immediately loved the sound of it, Kan-ar-an-zi, and I knew someday I’d write a character who carried that name—and that somehow, some way, she’d be intimately connected to a small and overlooked place. I have a terrible memory, but for whatever reason, I never forgot Kanaranzi.

Do you have a favorite line, image, or scene from this work?

The whole story sprouted from the first sentence. I’d been toying for months with the idea of a small-town girl who made it really, really big, and then one afternoon, I just heard it: “We know Kanaranzi Kimball won’t come to the Waubeen Annual Kanaranzi Kimball Day, but every year we plan as if she might.” From there, I had to figure out who KayKay was—and, perhaps more importantly, who was the person still in Waubeen who kept waiting/hoping for KayKay to come back?

You were a finalist in the Francine Ringold Awards for New Writers, which means that this is one of your first pieces published in this genre. How long have you been writing, and what did being a finalist in the competition mean to you?

I’m so grateful to Nimrod and to the Francine Ringold Awards for selecting this piece as a finalist. I’ve been a writer for about a decade, mostly as a higher-ed marketer. In 2016, I left my cubicle to become a freelancer in Europe, and I also began working more seriously on fiction during that time. In fall 2018, I’ll embark on an M.F.A. in creative writing at the University of Alabama, and I submitted this story as part of my application. I wouldn’t have felt as confident about doing so without the nod of support from Nimrod on this piece.

What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Writers write. Nothing else makes you a writer — and nothing else can strip that identity away from you. I recently heard Chris Abani put it perfectly: “You have to write yourself into writing.” Don’t get too caught up in the “aesthetic” of being a writer, and accept that rejection is a huge part of the process. Just keep telling stories. That’s all there is to do.

My site is

Sandra K. Barnidge is a Wisconsin native and holds an M.A. in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She’s a freelance writer in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

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