Lumberton native Jill McCorkle has written five novels and three collections of short stories, and her work has appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Atlantic and The New York Times Book Review. Now in her fourth year of teaching creative writing at NC State, she has seen her work adapted for the off-Broadway show Good Ol’ Girls, which follows five Southern women who celebrate life from childhood through old age. It opens Sunday and runs through April 11. NC State magazine intern Anqi Li talked with McCorkle about the production and her work. You can read more about McCorkle in The Bulletin and listen to an interview she did with WUNC’s The State of Things.
Good Ol’ Girls is a hugely collaborative project. How did you become involved?
Singer/songwriter Matraca Berg was a big fan of Lee Smith’s fiction and pitched the idea to Marshall Chapman, who knew Lee. Lee loved the idea and thought that my work had a kinship to what Marshall Chapman was doing with her music. A lot of my monologues are kind of sassy, almost irreverent women, and Marshall Chapman’s work has a real rock ‘n’ roll edge to it. It was just a nice match up of music and monologue. I didn’t even hesitate to say yes because I trusted Lee.
What about Good Ol’ Girls speaks to people?
It’s fun, lively and humorous with wonderful music, but it also takes a serious turn. The play spans a woman’s life — not an individual woman, but a woman at large. I can relate to every character, and that’s a big part of its appeal. We all have some point of reference to these different women at different stages [of life]. I want the play to remind people of their own roots, to connect with them in a way that makes them comfortable, at home. That’s what I always hope happens with my fiction.
What has it been like to see your work adapted for the stage?
You can’t help but learn something. It’s a real lesson in letting go and trusting the work to stand on its own. It’s hard to hear one of your lines that’s been going through your mind for years come out of someone’s mouth with a different intonation. It’s shocking, but it’s wonderful because it feels like your characters have a life that has nothing to do with your hand. There’s something very satisfying in that. My favorite character is someone called Lena. I loved her when I put her into my novel Tending to Virginia and seeing her come to life was the most satisfying because her character has drawn heavily on an elderly relative of mine.
What are you working on now?
I am back to work on a novel. I’m always superstitious about talking too much, but I can say it’s what I seem to do again and again. I’m very interested in how people’s lives intertwine, so it’s about several characters — and of course it’s set in a small town that looks a whole lot like Lumberton.
(Photograph by Carol Rosegg)