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A conversation with ... creative writer Kathryn Etters Lovatt

Writer has lived in exotic places, but loves being back home in Camden

Posted: June 25, 2013 4:13 p.m.
Updated: June 26, 2013 5:00 a.m.

On a recent spring morning, award-winning writer Kathryn Etters Lovatt of Camden was doing the laundry when she heard a loud, groaning noise.

“Something must be wrong with the dryer,” Lovatt thought. “It sounded like an earthquake!” She looked up and saw the huge clock that was falling from the wall above the dryer. Fortunately, she jumped out of the way just in time to avoid its crashing down on her. If she hadn’t moved so quickly, it’s a good bet she probably would have been found sprawled out on the floor.

So what did she do after she caught her breath? Writer that she is, she jotted down a few notes about the incident -- which could be the kernel of a future story.

“It’s just an interesting moment. You really want to establish ‘the habit of art,’” Lovatt added, borrowing a phrase from author Flannery O’Connor. “I do try to do something every day, even if it’s just a little scribbling.”

The congenial, unpretentious woman sat at the cozy kitchen table in her recently renovated historic home, circa 1900. She chatted casually about her love of writing, and later gave a brief tour of her writing retreat in the “Summer Kitchen.” Detached from the main house and standing in a small garden, it contains her computer desk, a bathroom and a couch -- good for napping on occasion, when her muse takes a break.

It seems the muse must be with her most of the time because she’s still writing and raking in awards for her prose and poetry. Most prominently, she won the 2013 Individual Artist Fellowship for prose given by the South Carolina Arts Commission.

“The honor was greater than the $5,000 grant,” she said.

After having received first place for short stories in the 2012 Press 53 Open Awards Anthology, she recently learned that she has won first place again for her short story “Vermin,” to be published in the 2013 anthology, due to come out in October.

She is a three-time winner of the South Carolina Writers Workshop (SCWW) Carrie McCray Memorial Award. Lovatt is a member of the SCWW’s Camden branch, led by Douglas Wyant. She has also received the North Carolina Writers Network Doris Betts Prize. She is a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts fellow, and both her fiction and poetry have received Pushcart Prize nominations.

All of her life, Lovatt has written, taught creative writing, studied and edited, not only in this country but around the world. Now retired, Lovatt’s husband, Dan, was chief financial officer international for AT&T, and he also held a similar position with PCCW, another telecommunications company. His career took them and their children to Jakarta, Hong Kong and London for many years.

The daughter of Alex Etters of Camden and the late Ruby Etters, who died in 2008, Lovatt made a point to bring the children home to the farm in the summers.

“The expat life’s not real,” she said.

For instance, in Indonesia, they had seven people to help with driving, cleaning and cooking. Indonesia is a Muslim country, and as a woman, she was not allowed to work at a job. So she took classes and taught creative writing to other expatriates.

In Hong Kong, a British territory at the time, she taught American literature at the University of Hong Kong, then a British university, and worked on her doctorate, although she hasn’t completed it. She only wrote academically there and says it silenced her creative voice.

“It took me a long time to recover my creative, fictional or poetic voice,” Lovatt said.

Both their children, who are now grown, speak Chinese, having taken courses in the Mandarin dialect. Their son, Alexander “Xan,” lives in the Washington, D.C. area. Their daughter, Gabriel, recently finished her doctorate and has a 2-year-old daughter, Asa.

Lovatt, who grew up on a farm just outside of Camden, attended Baron DeKalb Elementary School and Camden High School. Later, she earned her Master of Arts in creative writing from Hollins University in Roanoke, Va. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies and literary magazines, most recently in The Petigru Review, Main Street Rag, Moonshine Review, and the aforementioned Press 53 Open Awards Anthology.

The 2012 Press 53 anthology received entries of stories and poems from 37 states and five foreign countries, according to the note from the editor, Kevin Morgan Watson. Lovatt won first prize for short stories with her “How to Euthanize a Fish.”

Judge Clifford Garstang commented about the work: “Everything about this story -- the title, the controlling metaphor, the setting, the dialogue -- is fresh and fun, and yet the story manages to delve into the universal mysteries of relationships and what is knowable.”

“How to Euthanize a Fish” is about Mabry, a young career woman who eats regularly at a sushi bar, where she becomes intrigued with another customer -- a handsome mystery man. One evening, his claim that he is a government consultant strikes her as suspicious, and she decides to ignore him. Here’s a brief excerpt:

“Ah,” I said and shifted my attention to a pair of shrimp dumplings. It didn’t take much silence for him to bring out the broad smile, his teeth a shade shy of too-white. ”All right,” he said. “Tit for tat. What if I told you I gathered information?”

One of Lovatt’s poems, “Wash,” was selected for publication in the 2009 edition of The Petigru Review, published by the SCWW.

“It’s a poem of grief because I lost my mom,” she said.

It was her mother’s health issues that brought the Lovatts from London back to her hometown in 2007.

The Lovatts also realized that their son, who was in his teens then, had no American experience. He attended English schools while they were living abroad.

“We felt like he needed to be reacquainted with America,” Lovatt said.

When they first returned to South Carolina, they moved to Columbia, where Xan finished high school.

And similarly, Lovatt has become reacquainted with Camden. But this is not the first time she’s lived back here since graduating from college. She worked for The Camden Chronicle from 1977 to 1979, becoming lifestyles editor, writing features and weddings.

“All brides are beautiful,” says Lovatt, who was Kathryn Etters Bowles then. “That was one of my great fun jobs.”

Lovatt thinks community newspapers still serve a valuable purpose.

“It’s the day for feature writers and feature newspapers. That’s the only place you can get community news,” she said.

After her stint with the Chronicle, Lovatt went on to work for AT&T in Blacksburg, Va., where she wrote  in-house publications and met her future husband.

She values her time living in foreign lands.

“Nothing looks or smells or tastes the same. Your senses are reawakened. Travel does that,” Lovatt said.

This “little country girl,” as she calls herself, who has traveled the world, lived in big cities and thrived on the experiences, says she loves being home. And she loves writing. “It’s how I keep in touch with my soul.”

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