Dale M. Kushner: Novelist & founder/director, The Writer’s Place

My NativeAdvantage:


Dale M. Kushner teaches workshops that combine her interest in Buddhism, Jungian psychology, and the creative process. She has taught for the Assisi Institute and is the former Poetry Editor for The Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. Currently, she writes a blog for Psychology Today. Ms. Kushner’s most recent poetry collection More Alive Than Lions Roaring was a finalist for the May Swenson Poetry Award at Utah State Press and the Agha Shahid Ali Prize at University of Utah. The Conditions of Love is her debut novel. She is currently working on her second novel that explores transgenerational trauma.

What do I do best?

Like a lot of folks who become novelists, I’m a great observer. It’s a skill I honed early in life, probably as a survival tactic in a turbulent family. People’s words and their gestures are often at odds. (Think of the person who swears she’s not nervous while twisting her hair.) In life as in art, there’s usually a cover story that passes as reality, but for those of us who are paying attention, we feel the unspoken truth quivering underneath what’s said.

What makes me the best version of myself?

My father, bless his heart, taught me to cultivate a sense of humor no matter what.  He had an absurdist attitude toward life, which meant anything crazy could happen at any time, and often does. He felt that if one couldn’t laugh at the craziness, they’d go nuts. I agree. Rationality accounts for very little of human behavior, though surely we’d like to believe otherwise. Most of us are hesitant to admit that the engine that drives much of our action is our emotionally-oriented limbic system and not our linear-thinking pre-frontal cortex. I like that I can most often wiggle myself out of some negative feeling by extending humorous self-compassion toward the part of myself that feels stuck in the old reptilian hind brain.

What are my aspirations?

To me, self-awareness is everything. That means thinking hard about who you are, who you are not, how you want to evolve, and also recognizing and owning the shadowy parts that one projects onto others. Investigating one’s true nature is not for the faint of heart, but it’s a noble pursuit recommended by every wisdom tradition. Personally, to write fictional characters with depth, I need to understand and acknowledge the complexities of the human heart. I’m always going to be someone deeply curious about human suffering and human resilience who endeavors to convey what I learn in my fiction.

My Biggest Success?

Hmmm. How to answer this one? On one level, publishing my debut novel The Conditions of Love might be my biggest success, but really its appearance in the world and outward success is just the lick of sweetness that comes after years of the hard labor of writing. So, I would say the success is having the courage to pursue and survive the journey. May every person embarking on an artistic project trust their courageous hearts.

My Most Challenging Moment?

My most challenging moment was facing a serious illness and the acknowledgement that we simply do not control the universe. Most of us hold onto the belief that if we do X,Y, and Z, we will live a long and healthy life, but the truth is there are no guarantees. I remember thinking at that time, But I exercise and eat so much broccoli and kale. How can this be happening! I had to face the delusional quality of those thoughts, which was almost as difficult as facing the illness itself, since they had made me feel safe. There is absolutely nothing easy about accepting life’s instability and impermanence, but it’s not only possible to face what scares us, it’s also possible to continue to thrive.

My Motto?

“If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn.”

This is from the brilliant Charlie Parker. It speaks to me about my writing, but also about fully inhabiting my life.

My Favorite People/Role Models?

Jane Goodall, Adrienne Rich, Wendell Berry, Gretel (in “Hansel and Gretel”), James Baldwin, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jesus. My family, my women’s Buddhist sangha. My dear dear friends.

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

Dreams, shamanic journeys, the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, any place that’s wild.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

I still write my books long-hand and always have several different colored legal pads and lots of Pilot pens around. I also adore my Styrofoam roller. It’s fabulous for smoothing knotted back and neck muscles.

My Current Passions?

I recently bought a Native drum from the Taos Drum Factory in New Mexico. I spent several hours holding and beating different drums until I found just the right one, whose “voice” spoke to me. The repetitive rhythm of shamanic drumming can induce a trance state, which I find hugely beneficial when I need to break through into another way of seeing reality. I don’t do this often, only when the spirit moves me to lift my drum off its hook, throw my head back, close my eyes, and let the rhythm of the drum move through me.