Interview with Natalie Goldberg

The writer of many books on writing shares what's part of her media diet

| July-August 2000

Natalie Goldberg has spent much of her creative energy showing others how to be creative themselves. A practitioner of Zen Buddhism as well as a painter and speaker, she is perhaps best known for her books on writing. In Writing Down the Bones, first published in 1986, Goldberg brought Zen and writing together in a series of essays on “freeing the writer within.” Her candor about her own creative shortcomings was a big part of the work’s success. In her new book, Thunder and Lightning (Bantam), she returns to exploring the writer’s craft, going so far as to declare it a legitimate Zen practice. In other words, sitting on the pillow is not the only way to encounter one’s Buddha nature.

Born in New York, Goldberg has lived on a quiet mesa near Taos, New Mexico, for 15 years. Not one to miss a chance to see the world from new perspectives, she has traveled extensively, including a trip to Japan in 1998. Goldberg is currently spending a year studying at the Clouds in Water Zen Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. She spoke with editorial assistant Nicole Duclos.

What have you been reading lately?

The Book of Serenity by Hsing-Hsiu, a commentary on 100 classic Zen koans, and the Avatamsaka Sutra, which is one of Buddha’s teachings. I'm also enjoying Two Arrows Meeting in Mid-Air, a commentary on koans by an American Zen master, John Daido Loori. This isn’t what I usually read, but because of my studies I’m immersing myself in Zen.

What do you usually read?

More novels and creative nonfiction. On the side, I did read Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx, which is very good. And I also just finished Bones of the Master, George Crane’s account of his friendship and trip through China with a Buddhist monk.