Emily Ruskovich may have been a shy student in school, but she, like many other writers, learned early on that she could find her voice through pen and paper.
In an interview with the Alturas Institute this month, Ruskovich, a novelist and professor of creative writing at Boise State University, recalled the exhilaration she felt the moment she learned, as a young girl, that she had the ability to capture her thoughts just by making “little ink marks on a page.”
Storytelling is something Ruskovich has always enjoyed, since she was about four years old. Today, those years of passion for writing have come to fruition in the form of her debut novel, “Idaho,” her writing reaping widespread acclaim from critics everywhere from the Idaho Statesman to the New York Times.
Inspired by her childhood growing up on Hoodoo Mountain in the Idaho Panhandle, Ruskovich's "Idaho" has been described as a story of love, violence, forgiveness and mystery. It became a shortlisted finalist for the Dylan Thomas International Prize, as well as the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best First Novel and the New York Library’s Young Lion’s Award.
Ruskovich said she has felt grateful to able to be able to share her voice with an ever-growing audience of readers across the country. Though the voice she shares sometimes comes through characters she creates, Ruskovich said fiction helps her to learn more about herself.
“I do find that through fiction, I am able to express parts of my real self,” Ruskovich said. “Sometimes I learn things about myself through the characters I create, and yes, this does make me grow as a person, to always be writing from a place of compassion.”
Ruskovich is an alumnus of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a prestigious, graduate-level creative writing program where she began her initial work on “Idaho.” Ruskovich said she was encouraged to keep writing and challenging herself by her instructors, writers she had admired long before she stepped foot into the program, including Marilynne Robinson, Michellen Huneven, Lan Samantha Chang and Ethan Canin.
Now with a published novel under her belt and another one on the way (she’s not giving away any details just yet, but continues to be inspired by her friends, family, and the landscapes of her childhood), Ruskovich has advice for young writers who may be struggling to find their own voices, or who fear they will not heard until they are published.
“My advice is to devote yourself whole-heartedly to your characters, to really pour your heart into your work, and to try not to think so much about publishing while you're still immersed in the story,” Ruskovich said. “Think instead about the people of your novel. Care for them. Learn from them. Love them for their own sakes. Though publishing a novel is truly amazing, I also feel that the work itself should be its own reward, its own pursuit, worthy of your commitment and your labor because it is the thing you love.”
Asked about the emergence of fellow women’s voices across the country, Ruskovich said all women can feel a sense of empowerment and solidarity when those who have been silenced are able to come forward and hold others accountable. She believes it is especially important for girls to be taught from a young age to speak out “when things are not right.”
Now caring for a brand new daughter herself, Ruskovich said she hopes she can give her daughter the kind of childhood she had, “a childhood of imagination and kindness and the beauty of the natural world.”
For more information on Emily Ruskovich, visit http://www.emilyruskovich.com/.