On March 1st, Roanoke’s Art by Bus program announced Tim Thornton as the 2018 Writer on the Bus.
A component of Art by Bus, Writer on the Bus is a joint effort of Ride Solutions, the Roanoke Arts Commission and Valley Metro, highlighting public transportation in the region with literary, performing, and visual arts.
Tim Thornton is an award winning journalist, freelance writer and professor living in Shawsville. Over the next two months, Thornton will ride Roanoke’s transit system and produce a body of writing connected to his bus riding experiences. His love of story and deep held belief that everyone has one, were driving forces behind his desire to be this year’s Writer on the Bus.
The 2017 Writer on the Bus and BOOK CITY ★ ROANOKE contributor Shari Dragovich got the lowdown for us on Tim’s plans.
BOOK CITY ★ ROANOKE: What made you apply to be this year’s Writer on the Bus?
Tim Thornton: Part of my reason for applying was very selfish. I wanted something that would force me to write, give me deadlines and responsibilities to meet, but at the same time give me some freedom to write about whatever seems interesting. As Yogi Berra is supposed to have said, you can observe a lot just by watching. I want to get on the bus and see what I see and see what kind of stories I can tell.
I’m a firm believer in the cliché that everyone has a story. I believe every community has a collective story and a bunch of individual ones. I’m hoping I can learn about and tell some of those stories in a way people will enjoy. If it works, readers may learn some things, too. If it doesn’t work, at least readers will be able to tell themselves they’re smarter than that guy who spent all that time on a bus.
BCR: Isn’t this the way with all writers, and all humans…selfish and altruistic motives, held together in the same vessel? I know my reasons for applying to be last year’s Writer on the Bus were similar. Are you a regular bus rider?
TT: I am not. When I was six, my dad was a bus driver for a while and sometimes I would get to ride in the seat right behind him. But since then I’ve been a very sporadic bus rider. I live pretty far from any bus line, out where the trains used to stop, so there’s not much opportunity for me to take a bus.
BCR: I wasn’t a regular bus rider either. This made it all the more exciting—and nerve racking, too. What type of writing are you hoping to produce from your bus riding experience?
TT: I’m sure I’ll write some essays. But I hope to try some other things, too. I may put together some audio pieces, maybe a little video. I’ll probably even try a poem or two, but I’m not promising anyone will see those. Whatever form I use, I’ll be telling stories. That’s what people do. People tell stories to pass along information or wisdom or questions or to get other people to think. So, I’ll be looking for good ways to tell good stories.
BCR: Adding media to your storytelling sounds neat. And, different from previous Writers on the Bus. Speaking of media, do you plan on utilizing social media during your bus riding adventures? If so, how can we follow you?
TT: I’ll probably use the Writer by Bus Facebook page. I may warn people where I’m heading. I may share some snippets of stories or videos. I may call out for help developing stories. I may do some other things, too, but these are early days. I want to make sure I get a good grip on the core mission before I branch out too much.
BCR: Anything especially exciting to you about being the Writer on the Bus? Anything you’re nervous about?
TT: Everything and everything. I’m excited about getting out and meeting people, hearing their stories and seeing Roanoke from a vantage point that’s new to me – and I’m nervous about all that meeting and talking because I’m not really an extrovert. I’m nervous about producing work that meets the high bar set by the three Writers on the Bus who came before me.
BCR: Awe shucks. That’s a kind thing to say. I happen to know those three Writers on the Bus are honored to have you listed amongst their ranks.
You can follow Tim’s bus riding—and writing—adventures on the Writer by Bus Facebook page.★
BOOK CITY ★ ROANOKE Contributor Shari Dragovich was the 2017 Writer on the Bus. You can find her food writing in The Roanoker, her personal reflections at the blog In These Shoes, and her chapbook, The Thirty Minute Neighborhood, online as a pdf and available for purchase at Ride Solutions.