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Meet Vanessa Manko

Vanessa Manko is the author of The Invention of Exile, which was a finalist for The Center for Fiction’s First Novel Award, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick and a Kirkus Reviews’ best book of 2014. Her work has appeared in GrantaThe New YorkerThe New York Times MagazineThe Paris Review, and Dance Magazine. Formerly the Dance Editor of The Brooklyn Rail, Vanessa trained in ballet at the North Carolina School of the Arts and danced with the Charleston Ballet Theatre. She has taught writing at Wesleyan University, Goucher College, and SUNY Purchase. She currently teaches creative writing at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study.

What excites you about Narrative 4?  
Narrative 4’s ability to foster connection and empathy through storytelling, literature and the arts. To me, these are the things that make life meaningful and help one to build a good, sustaining life; they nourish the soul; help foster deep, abiding connections to community and to others; and basically speak to us deeply about what it means to be human. I’m thrilled to be joining an organization that utilizes the power of narrative to help us not only understand who we are, but also to imagine who we might become.

What’s one book or work of art that changed your life?
I can point to one English class that changed my life. I was training in ballet at the North Carolina School of the Arts, and I was 100% immersed in dance. The advice had always been to “eat, breathe and sleep” dance, and I did! But then I took an English course and read Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, W. Somerset Maugham, Lilian Hellman and others. Reading those writers, learning what one could do with language shifted something in me, and suddenly I was pouring over books and copying out passages I admired with the same focus and attention I had always reserved for dance. That was a turning point for me (no pun intended!). I continued dancing, but I began to crave something beyond ballet—words. And while it took many years, I can credit that class and those books for opening a new path away from dance and towards writing.

What brings you inspiration?
Like many people throughout the pandemic, I grew closer to nature because I spent more and more time outside, and so while I’ve always loved being outdoors, I feel I’ve become even more inspired by nature—the light of different seasons, scents, birds, colors, dawn and dusk and sunsets. All of it. And also poetry. I’m not a poet, but I love to read poetry first thing every morning; that is inspiring and helps set the tone for the rest of the day. So, nature and poetry. These two things bring me inspiration.