The Same Story a Different Way: Barrelhousing with Featured Author Tyrese Coleman


Tyrese Coleman, author of our featured story/memoir collection "How to Sit," is our favorite kind of overnight success story: the kind that takes years, and lots of sweat and super hard work and insecurity and long days and nights and balancing a full time job and a family and hell, maybe even a few trips to our friendly little conference in DC. As we get ready to feature Tyrese and her fantastic new book, we took a few minutes to talk about "How to Sit," how she wrote "How to Sit," writing short, and of course Patrick Swayze. Come out on Saturday to hear her read from her new book and talk Prose Brevity! 

Barrelhouse: We're excited that your book "How to Sit" is one of our featured books this year. It seems like the book is most often referred to as "short fiction and memoir," which I think sounds awesome. Can you tell us a little about the book and how you came to write a cross-genre project like this? 

Tyrese Coleman: It was unintentional. When I started writing these pieces, I did not originally consider a collection. I felt like there were certain themes and aspects of my life that I wanted to try out in fiction and in memoir. When I looked back and read some of my work, it felt like I was writing the same story but in a different way each time. Being so close to the material (I mean, everything is based on my life, I think that's as close as you can get) I was unable to see that it wasn't actually the same story, but rather that the themes were similar enough to speak to a universal truth. So, although the idea of putting them all together came from a place of insecurity, I began to see how I unintentionally had started to create a mosaic through different forms of prose. I began to seriously consider the prospect that these pieces could turn into a collection a few years ago.

BH: You wear a lot of hats -- just looking at the bio on your site it says you're a wife, mother, federal employee, editor, and writer. This is one of the core things we always wind up talking about at our conference: how do you find the time to write with all of those other things going on in your life? 

Tyrese Coleman: Oh man! If you had asked me this before my kids started pre-k at two different schools with two different start schedules, I would have a much better answer. Back before they started school, I would wake up at 5am and write for two hours before everyone else got up and the day started. Now, I am getting it in when and where I can: after the boys go to bed, while they're eating dinner, during long conference calls. I am lucky (and privileged) to have a partner that is understanding and knows that being a mommy or a wife or an attorney isn't all that I am. We also allow one another to time to step away from the house and do what we want to do. He thing is his band. My thing is my writing. Giving one another space to live our own lives is how we stay sane.

BH: Speaking of our conference, I think you've been before as an attendee, right? (assuming I'm remember that correctly) How does it feel to be coming back last year as a panelist, and then this year as one of our featured writers. I should also note this kind of thing is absolutely my favorite thing to hear about people's participation at the conference. 

Tyrese Coleman: OMG, it feels amazing! This was the very first writing conference I'd ever attended. I went when I was a student at Hopkins. I bought "Sacrifice," which is a short story in How to Sit, for an editor to read, and I remember standing in line chatting with the other writers and being so nervous about having an editor read my work. I was brand new to learning about literary magazines and publishing and this conference really gave me so much valuable insight into that world. It was also the first time that I had ever really mingled with professional writers other than my instructors at Hopkins and I remember feeling so intimidated. Everyone looked so cool. I'd just had my kids and was back in the writing program and it was nice to see professional writers who were parents, who had non-writing and non-teaching day jobs, to see that they weren't all in their 20s too. It was the right place and the right conference for me to attend at that time in my life and writing career. To now be a featured writer is absolutely amazing and goes to show that this conference isn't just a conference but a community.

BH: You're on the panel "Prose Brevity" with Tara Campbell and Jan Elman Stout. Can you tell us a little about what we should expect from that discussion? 

Tyrese Coleman: Oh, its going to be great! This panel is an extension of our flash fiction panel from last year. We hope to get the audience thinking of ways to use the flash techniques to really explore prose in ways they haven't done before. Tara will be the emcee and workshop leader. Jan is going to talk about how to expand your flash fiction. I am going to talk about flash nonfiction and what differentiates it from flash fiction and how to use this small form to reveal big truths. We have prompts and examples. We hope that folks will walk away with good little nugget drafts they can go home and polish and then submit.

BH: Okay the last if the Barrelhouse standard: what's your favorite Patrick Swayze movie? 

Tyrese Coleman: Oh my goodness, its Dirty Dancing! Nothing beats Patrick Swayze in a tight leather jacket and black shades gyrating them hips!

Tyrese L. Coleman is a writer, wife, mother, attorney, and writing instructor. She is the author of the collection "How to Sit." She is also an associate editor at SmokeLong Quarterly, an online journal dedicated to flash fiction. An essayist and fiction writer, her prose has appeared in several publications, including Amazon's Day One, Catapult, Buzzfeed, Literary Hub, The Rumpus, and forthcoming at the Kenyon Review. She is an alumni of the Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University, the Tin House and Virginia Quarterly Review writer's workshops, and a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow. Reach her at