Award-winning Writer Alibar Returns to the Mountain
Thursday, July 5, 2018
by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer
Coffee cup in hand, dressed in shorts and a black T-shirt, acclaimed writer Lucy Alibar is chilling on the patio at the Sewanee Inn, overlooking the golf course on a humid Monday morning.
The day before she was in steamy southern Louisiana wrapping up a movie she wrote, which stars Viola Davis, Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan. This week in Sewanee is a respite, but she’s also here to share her writing knowledge and support scribes at the School of Letters and the Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference.
In 1999, the Academy Award nominee was a budding writer at the same conference.
“It was a huge moment for me as a young person and as a writer,” she said, “because there was so much demanded of me so quickly. I think there was this academic and intellectual rigor that I hadn’t understood was part of the writing process.”
She also spoke to the School of Letters in 2015, but Alibar’s latest visit is as the recipient of the 2018 John Grammer Fellowship, funded by the Blake & Bailey Family Fund. The fund brings a notable writer or scholar to town each summer.
Growing up, like many young writers, Alibar felt like an “alien,” and said she understands young writers who feel like outcasts.
“There are certain aspects of the upcoming generation of writers, they were just raised completely differently, but at the same time I’m like, ‘I see you little alien, I see you,’” Alibar said.
“I think what the Writers’ Conference gives young people is not only an acceptance of their weirdness and creativity, but it also demands excellence, which I think is the best thing you can do for a young person,” she noted. “There’s a tremendous amount of respect for difference and curiosity.”
Alibar grew up in the Florida Panhandle, and when she first moved to New York City to pursue a writing career, she worked three hospitality jobs and wrote when she could. During those just-getting-by times, writing was the best part of her day, and she says she still has a passion for the craft despite the pressure of deadlines.
“The process of writing, I wouldn’t say it’s fun all the time, it’s not like swimming at the beach, but it engages me at such a deep level,” she said.
Alibar, who co-wrote the screenplay for the Academy Award nominated film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (based on a play she wrote), continues to pen big projects, while collecting buckets of prestigious awards, including the Ray Bradbury Nebula Award and the Humanitas Prize. She’s also worked with producer Guillermo del Toro to write a screenplay for “Secret Garden” and penned “Burnpile,” a TV project in development for FX/Amblin Entertainment.
Her current screenplay-turned-movie, “Troupe Zero,” a comedy/drama for Amazon, provided her a chance to learn from renowned actress Davis.
“If you’re lucky enough to work with Viola Davis, you’re lucky enough,” she said. “She is so talented, she is so focused and hard-working in a way that I think everybody learned from her, and we all truly walked away better artists from working with her. I know that sounds major, but she’s major.”
Despite Alibar’s journey from a teenage scribe in Florida, to a struggling writer in New York City, to now a lauded professional talent, she said feeling like “you’ve made it” is still an elusive state.
“There’s an undeniable peace that comes with a little bit of financial stability,” she said. “At the same time, once you’ve achieved that, people still always worry, ‘What if nobody likes my script? Am I going to get a bad reputation because of it?’ There are so many worries that prevent you from ever fully feeling like you’ve made it. I think I can speak for a lot of people when I say that.”
With the sounds of someone mowing the golf course and birds getting louder with the rising heat of the day, the interview winds down.
“I’m really excited for the kids (at the Young Writers’ Conference), I hope they realize what a gift this time is going to be for them,” she said. “Maybe it’s better that they don’t realize it now. This is a very special opportunity for them.”
When not working with writers, Alibar said she planned to relish the differences between Sewanee and Brooklyn, where she lives with her dog, “Joe Biden,” a chihuahua mix.
“I’m really enjoying the quiet and openness of it,” she said. “I’m definitely going to get some fried food and grits. My activities honestly involve eating and sleeping and being lazy.”
As for the future, Alibar said she is ready to direct a project. A big fan of superhero franchise movies, she added that she’d also enjoy working on a big-budget movie where money is not an obstacle.