She hails from the South, a town called Orange near the Gulf Coast, on the Texas side of the Texas-Louisiana border. It's the kind of town where she could bike to her maternal grandparents' house or go "visiting" at her aunt and uncle's old house with the garden, where Uncle Julian was doing some project and Aunt Peggy was cooking. It's the kind of town where, after Kate Robards lost her father as a child, the neighbors came together and supported her family with gifts of food and sometimes, if Mrs. Alford was around, clothes, lunch, eventually a job. "I'm a sixth-generation Orangite," Kate said, "and I kind of thought I’d live there forever. Of course I also hoped I wouldn’t."
It turns out she did leave: Kate just completed a two-year MFA in creative writing from California College of the Arts. Right before graduating, in the midst of completing her thesis of short stories and a one-act play, she and her friends produced another one-act play.
"It was quite a feat to produce, act, and write my play at the same time my thesis was due," she said. "I’m still patting myself on the back for that one."
Kate's love of writing comes from a love of storytelling. She says that even now she prefers to tell a story rather than write it, but writing is a great medium for getting a story to an audience.
"My impulse to write is an impulse to tell a story, to make things up, to create in beautiful, compelling ways," Kate said.
Her good friend, Chris Murphy, who met Kate when she was dating one of his friends and said she eventually "charmed her way" into his life, extolled her writing.
"Her authenticity," he said of what makes her writing stand out. "The way she captures the voices of the characters in her stories. Tempered with the rhythms of Dixie she is the equivalent of a new-age Tennessee Williams/Jack Kerouac."
Kate has big dreams when it comes to her writing career — as she should.
"Oh, I have fantasies," she said. "I’ll publish essays and keep working on my thesis short stories so they can be published. I’ll do a book version of my latest solo play, 'Ain’t That Rich,' or my first solo play, 'Mandarin Orange.' I’ll just keep writing and finding ways to get it out into the world."
Speaking of 'Ain't That Rich,' it's a solo play that runs for 60 minutes, created by and starring Kate herself. It opens tomorrow at the MLK Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., and tickets are available here.
Being poor is working at a restaurant for one of your five jobs in college…desperate for a tip share, and plastering on the biggest smile despite the fact that you haven’t slept and your car broke down and you need to make all the money possible to pay for it, and you see the first customer of the day and you say, "Hi, welcome to Carrabba’s Italian Grill. We’re so happy to have you here."
— Excerpt from 'Ain't That Rich,' pulled from a longer excerpt published by Luna Luna Magainze.
Kate said writing this show was hard because of its autobiographical nature and, because of its focus on Kate's "broke" childhood, the way it explores some difficult experiences she had to go through.
"It’s vulnerable and yet at the same time, there are moments of fun for me," she said. "Especially to be able to turn pain into humor."
In addition, writing in general can be hard because Kate draws a lot from her personal experience, which means not only delving into memories that are painful, as she does in the solo play, but also figuring out how to be appropriately talk about the people around her.
"I also want to write about the personal, dark struggles in my life," she said. "Sometimes that entails the people I love most, so I have to be sensitive."
In the end, the pain and the struggle of the writing process, the fear that comes when she sends something out into the world, are all worth it because Kate views writing as something noble, a cause she wants to be a part of.
"I write because I’ve found comfort and solace in the words of other writers," she said. "Written language and stories are magical and transformative. During my loneliest times, I’ve felt that someone else feels like me. By writing, I feel like somehow, I’m contributing to this noble cause that has saved my soul during dark times."
Even more, Kate believes in using the gifts you're given in life, and one of the gifts she's been given is the gift of writing. So she's going to keep using it and hope to make the world a better place.