An Interview with Catharina Coenen

How did your family experience concerning the portrait become the subject of an essay? What compelled this particular story to be told?

I am a plant scientist by training. Seven years ago, I took a class on creative nonfiction writing because I wanted to write about plants in a way that would reach beyond my research publications and beyond my usual audience of fellow botanists. But no matter whether I wrote about nettles, golden rain trees, currant bushes, or lupines, every piece turned itself into a story about the experiences of my family during World War II. I eventually decided to let the words go where they wanted to take me. Many of the essays I have written since then grew from anecdotes I heard from my grandmother when I was a child.

When I tried to talk to my mother about the stories I was writing, I discovered that she knew few of them. I then learned that many Germans who were children during the war had never spoken with their parents about those years. A substantial body of literary and scholarly works on this “silence between generations” has appeared in Germany over the past decade, but few of these texts are available in English. When I heard my mother speak about fishing the plaster portrait of Hitler from the pond and having her mother destroy it with a hammer, the images in my mind were so vivid that I knew I had to let them pour into words. As the story unfolded through draft after draft, I realized that it might provide an entry point for readers from non-German cultures into the complex emotional entanglements that World War II created in German families.

What were some challenges (or surprises) in the construction of this essay?

From the beginning, the essay insisted on being told from two points of view: the central anecdote, told from the limited third-person perspective of my mother as a child, and a traditional first-person reflection on this anecdote that invites the reader into the author’s head. Asking the reader to inhabit both my mother’s early childhood experience and also my own thoughts felt like a tall order; it took many rounds of revisions to arrive at a structure that I thought a reader might be willing to follow. Initially, I resisted writing from two different points of view, because I tried to make myself abide by rules of good essay writing that demand unity of form and perspective. But the emotional “juice” that drove the writing flowed from crawling into my mother’s skin. Each time I tried to abandon or circumvent her internal experience, my words turned wooden and distant. And each time I tried to remain entirely within it, I lost the echoes of her story across generations that also demanded to be heard. Giving myself permission to write part of the essay from my mother’s point-of-view taught me what questions I needed to ask her, what information I needed to hunt down in other sources and, in the end, brought me up gasping as I recognized myself as performing the eerie repetition of a child dredging up the past and holding it up for her mother’s inspection and response.

Read Catharina’s essay “Saving Adolf.”

Catharina Coenen is a plant biologist and first-generation German immigrant to Northwestern Pennsylvania, where she teaches biology at Allegheny College. Her creative nonfiction pieces are forthcoming in Appalachian Heritage, Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere.

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An Interview with L.J. Hardy

Your story feels like a larger commentary...what inspired it? 

My other work is unraveling power structures through community-engagement and writing about political economic shifts, power, inequality. In my personal life, I am surrounded by wonderful furry and feathered loved ones. As these two lives comes together, I observe how humans in our current political moment look at the value of life according to economic principles. Non-human animals and even humans become worthwhile or worthless according to their production value. Wasps that sting but don’t produce anything are “worthless.” There is a subtle, less obvious theme in some of my work about the interweaving of white supremacy into everyday life. The main character in this piece is white and has the privileges of traveling and keeping backyard birds. She is surrounded by blue-eyed blondes and her lawn is symmetrical and green. Her critique of how others view non-human animals is limited when she becomes worried about protecting her home from the threat of wasps, delving into a division that echoes the underpinnings of xenophobia under the current political climate, instead of looking for value in being, thinking about economic functioning, borders, boundaries and threats. To me it is a critical examination of whiteness; a crucial activity for unraveling taken-for-granted assumptions about power in a changing world.
While this is submitted as a piece of fiction, all of it happened, except that I am incapable of making perfect strawberry crème brûlée.

In your opinion, who is urgent to read in this moment? Who inspires you as a reader/writer? 

There are so many fabulously inspirational poets and fiction writers right now. I love writing that is not about what it is about. Writing that tells a story about something while exploring and unraveling connections that tell readers about complexity and experience. I believe that it is especially urgent to read the work of authors coming from outside of—or counter to—the United States region who are women, non-binary, or others on the gender spectrum, and/or who are authors of color. I have been reading indigenous feminist scholars like Jodi Byrd who write intense theory investigating settler colonialism. In non-fiction I am taken with the work of Melissa Chadburn whose non-fiction challenges power and invokes bravery through the synthesis of beautiful writing and about real topics. I love reading Amy Bloom’s work as well. This month I’m happy to see a new short story by Mary Gaitskill, one of my favorite authors, in The New Yorker. All of these authors write directly and indirectly, subtly and strong, about the bodies, power, sexuality, heartbreak, and exploitation. 

Read L.J. Hardy’s short story “Neoliberal Appetites.”

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An Interview with Jad Josey

You've invented a rather deliciously wicked (diabolical, some might call it!) did this story come into being? 

The opening line of this story—a line of dialogue—appeared in my mind long before the rest of the story materialized. I wrote down that line and tucked it into my subconscious to percolate. Then came Henry, a man so desperate to be remarkable that he claims responsibility for a heinous act he didn't even commit. When he recognizes an opportunity to be remembered, he comes up against a woman committed to her own brand of vigilante justice—who sees in Henry a kind of evil intent that warrants action, whether or not she actually believes his confession. I didn't start the story knowing how it would end—and I was just as surprised about how wicked things turned out.

If you could rewrite the ending of any contemporary or classic story, which would it be? 

I really struggled to answer this question, and I finally came to this conclusion: If I could rewrite the ending of any contemporary or classic story, it would be any story written by Lauren Groff—and I would apply some magical potion to ensure the story continued on forever. I am an unwavering advocate of Groff's work, and I consider her one of the consummate writers of our time. 

Read Jad's short story "The Miracle Landing." 

Photo Credit: Aidan Klimenko

Photo Credit: Aidan Klimenko

An Interview with W.S. Winslow

Your piece "Trinity" is an excerpt from a novel-in-stories...can you share your process in composing this story as part of a larger work?

I started “Trinity” when I was about halfway through my novel-in-stories, "Under the White Snow Sky." In the book, I wanted each story to be complete in itself, but also work with the others to paint a larger, more complex picture of place and people and time. Very few of the stories could accomplish both goals at once, so I’d write each one as part of the project, then reconsider it separately to see how it would function outside the world of novel. Sometimes I had to strip away references or characters or scenes that weren’t absolutely essential to the story as a discrete piece. Occasionally something needed to be added. It makes for a laborious revision process, but it seems to be the only way to serve both masters.

Your character Albert is haunted by ghosts...what's a favorite ghost or supernatural story of yours?

Actually I’m not much for supernatural stories. Back in high school, I read “Salem’s Lot” and was so scared I kept my bedroom windows closed and locked all summer long. Even on really hot nights, I didn’t open them. That was my last foray into the supernatural, and my toes still curl when I think of those vampires scratching to be let in.

As I was working on “Trinity” I was preoccupied with Alice Munro’s story “Floating Bridge,” which is not a ghost story, but feels very ambiguous, at least in my reading of it, and that interested me. Is the boy who appears to Jinny real, or is he an angel sent to lead her to death? Has she been cured of cancer or is she dying? Is the floating bridge real or a metaphor? Does the kiss return her to life or lead her to death? Whether or not my reading is what Munro intended, I can’t say, but what was so compelling to me was the open-endedness I felt in that story, the sense of being haunted, and the white space that lets readers draw their own conclusions.

Read W.S.'s short story "Trinity.

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An Interview with Elizabeth Gonzalez James

The setting of your storyan obscure town in Texasfeels appropriately like a pressure cooker of tension for this sibling relationship. Can you tell us how this story came about? 

When I was a kid we lived for a year in a very tiny, unincorporated place called Bluntzer, Texas and Schumpert is based on this little town. In one scene I mention a little boy with nowhere to roller skate other than on a small piece of plywood—that was me in 5th grade! I think I'm always trying to make sense of the different places I've lived and I use stories to try and define towns and landscapes. A person who grows up in Bluntzer is going to be very different from someone who grows up in Austin or New York City. Why do our hometowns define us? What is it about them that seeps in and shapes who we are? This story is an interrogation, raising some questions and (hopefully) answering others.   

What is your favorite last short story read? What makes it so attractive?

The one that sticks out is "A Better Place" by Ottessa Moshfegh. Funny enough, it's also about twin children who are convinced they're not supposed to be on Earth, that they're supposed to be in a better place. They're also convinced that in order to get to this better place they need to kill just the right person and the story unrolls this twisted logic in a sort of fairy tale atmosphere. I love stories that are a little real and a little unreal and this one sits comfortably in the middle. The story ends at the beginning of the climax as the girl twin finally finds and confronts the person she is meant to kill, and I love that Moshfegh decided to leave so much to the audience's imagination (though given how dark Moshfegh's writing is I assume it was not a happy ending for the children). 

Read Elizabeth's short story "Schumpert, Texas: You're Already Here." 

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An Interview with Andrea Marcusa

Your story takes place in the beauty department of a mall--a space that is at once promising and discouraging for some women. What inspired this piece?

Early on in my career, one of my jobs was to write copy for fashion and beauty products and companies. I always loved playing with words and had always been fascinated by the glamour of the cosmetics and clothing worlds, so fashion and beauty copy was fun to write and it was also fun to use beauty terminology in a short story. As a result of this work in the fashion and beauty industry, I spent a lot of time in makeup departments and talking to people who marketed cosmetics and fragrances.  I always thought that  the names of perfumes and cosmetic collections that the marketing people dreamed up for their products were pretty amusing and so it was logical for some real and some made-up names to appear in this story.  Also, the intensity of the salespeople trying to press their wares on people hurrying through the department on their way to another floor was always kind of annoying but also kind of part of the "sport" of the business.  .

Fast-forward a bunch of years: I was walking through the very crowded beauty department at Bloomingdales in New York City on a Saturday afternoon and I paused to take it all in. I was a bunch of years older, happily married, hadn't written beauty copy in years, feeling like a lot of the makeup there probably would look silly on me. There was a beautiful young woman trying on makeup and that's when I got the idea for the story. 

Can you tell us who or which bodies of work you enjoy and/or have shaped your own writing? 

I'm constantly influenced by what I'm reading. I learn so much about writing from poets. Some of my recent favorite writers are: Poets Philip Levine, Edward Hirsch, Bob Hikok, Danez Smith; prose writers Marguerite Duras, Bonnie Joe Campbell, Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion, John Cheever, Isaac Babel, Alice Munro and Joyce Carol Oates.

Read Andrea's short story "A Situation in Beauty." 


An Interview with Z.Z. Boone

Your story masterfully depicts that gap between what we want and what we settle for. What inspired Bodie's character? 

Bodie is a real conglomeration. He's me looking back on life and wondering if I'd be less neurotic if I was still working as a restaurant health inspector. He's my Irish grandmother who believed anyone she hadn't given birth to was "rather off." And he's like many actors I've worked with, seeking that elusive character the world can finally fall in love with. 

You're a 3-time contributor to BT...we love working with you! What advice do you have for a new or emerging writer in terms of getting a story ready for submission to us and other places? 

I teach writing at a university, and the thing I constantly stress is imagery. Giving the reader something she or he can visualize. Using the five senses to help complete your character's emotional journey. Words are great, but wordsas beautifully wrought as they may be-seldom have the lasting impact of a picture projected onto the landscape of the mind. Show it, show it, show it.

Read Z.Z.'s short story "The Rellies" in our current issue. 

An Interview with Courtney Hayden

Your story follows a bleak, though poignantly told, relationship with an addict...what inspired this story?
As human beings, we’re constantly trying to relate to and empathize with each other and addiction makes parts of a person unknowable, unrelatable. What interests me is why we keep trying to make a connection even after failing time after time. Often, I think it’s because we’re convinced addiction is a mask and we’re desperately trying to get to the person underneath, the person we feel we know. I think trying to connect counts for so much, even if it is in vain. It is a sign of hope. The willingness to make the same mistake over and over again can be seen as proof of insanity, but in the end I think that it is an act of love. 

Which writer or body of work has shaped your own writing and/or reading?
Writers who explore the effects of technology on interconnectedness and alienation are so interesting to me. I love reading writers who create characters that are striving for human connection in the face of an overwhelming, technologically advanced world—a world clearly set in the future, but one that we can easily imagine being our own. Anything by George Saunders is a must-read for me. Ben Marcus’s short stories are amazing—I thought “Leaving the Sea” was terrific.

Read Courtney's short story "Still Life/Minor Accidents." 

An Interview with Jess Rizkallah

Your essay seems to hover between prose and poetry...can you share your process on this piece? How do you move between spaces of prose and poetry? 
I wrote this lyric essay by accident in a class taught by Yusef Komunyakaa. The theme of the class was The Sacred and The Profane. I’m embarrassed I don’t remember the reading from that week, but we all seemed to respond to the concept of “Profanity." The essay began in the memo app on my phone. Initially, it was a mental list of memories I always recall but never write about or in some cases, say out loud. I was thinking about these profanities and how the navigation between languages and geographical contexts emphasizes different parts. Some profanities are more base and others are more insidious, disguised as love, or even wrapped up in love. It’s laughable that my language makes more room for apology than most men do, yet I’m expected to forgive everyone but myself and the women around me. It’s tiring. Halfway through writing this I realized that I was allowed to write without an apology shadowing every claim I made. I wanted to prove I could write with love but also with anger. I don’t know if I would have kept writing this if I hadn’t been reading the work of my classmate Devereux Fortuna. Her writing makes me feel brave.
As for form stuff: I think my poetry turns into prose when I silence the editor in my brain that usually insists on jogging alongside the poem as it is being written. That silence pulled me into a meditative mode where time doesn’t exist and then I’m that weirdo in the coffee shop for five hours. Sometimes I don’t write for a while because the music of the longer piece is still in my head, but I already got all the lyrics down. After this essay, I didn’t write anything substantial for like 4 months, but I felt okay.

Congratulations on your award-winning collection, The Magic My Body Becomes (which I've purchased and enjoyed!). What have you discovered or learned from the experience of publishing a first collection of poetry? 
Thank you so much for reading it! I have learned that publishing a book doesn’t mean I’ve suddenly figured everything out. I’m still scared and unsure and curious and obsessive and having fun trying to figure writing out. I’ve learned that this is allowed, and necessary.

Read Jess's essay "On Profanity/Arab Girlhood." 

An Interview with Willem Myra

Your story feels very familiar in terms of the tech age with which we're faced... is it based on an actual experience of mistaken identity?
As a matter of fact, it is, although the real occurrence has little to do with porn stars or websites. Around late 2016, I was delivered this envelope with a detailed explanation as to why my request for joining the Italian Army had been denied. Now bear in mind that I can be both lazy and understandably unpatriotic, and that guns were never successful in working their mojo on me, other than in movies. It was obvious there had been a disconnect along the way. So I looked online for the appropriate numbers and dialed the Relationships Office of the Defense Ministry in Rome. Upon explaining my conundrum, I was told that it pertained personal information which couldn't be discussed on the phone. Furthermore, even if I were to inquire about it in person after proper identification, it was possible I would not receive an answer as the letter enclosed in the envelope was the sole and undisputed position the Ministry would argue. Therefore I gave up in my search for the truth. Have I mentioned yet that I can be lazy? To this day I still don't know if someone tried to pull a prank on me (by enlisting me through a secondary channel that's not even recognized?), or if someone homonymous aspired to become a private himself and screwed up the procedure. Either way, that envelope left a mark on my subconscious, coupled with my at-the-time recent learning about cybersquatting, made for an interesting mix. The last piece of the puzzle was a draft for a literary flash fiction featuring a female depressed NEET (not in education, employment, or training), who ended up becoming the protagonist of "Naughty You Dot Com".  

How much has technology shaped your writing and/or writing identity (i.e. social media)? 
I began seriously writing–as in, "I'm a writer now"; as in, "BIC is my motto"; as in, "I might publish something, either through a press or a police blotter"–in 2009, when Facebook was a novel reality and Italian users were scarce. For the first year or so, it had no impact on my writing, but then by the end of 2011 something gave way and although never explicitly stating that I was a writer, through Facebook I found both my first beta reader (a kind Tunisian girl I still wonder about) and the first venue to publish in both digital and print a (terrible, terrible) story of mine. What followed were years in which, again, social media had no direct influence on my work. I seldom feature it or more modern tech in my stories, me being seduced by a less digitalized world the likes of which I experienced in Eastern Europe in the latter half of the nineties. However, while not being a focal point of my exploratory process, social media, and in particular Twitter, forever altered my writing when in 2016 I came across a link to a DailyScienceFiction story. I read it, enjoyed it, and found its execution to lay within my capabilities. At the time I was still primarily writing in Italian, therefore it came as a surprise to think I could flex my mental muscles in another language. There's no harm in trying, I told myself. A few days later I sat down with my pad, penned two stories, typed them on the computer, sent them out, received an acceptance for both. Whoa, I went. Here I hit jackpot. Riding this high, I translated an old work, created two new ones. I submitted the first to DSF: rejected. The second: rejected. Third: rejected. Two years later, I still regularly send stories to that venue and with clockwork precision in less than 14 days it'll be back in my inbox with a "maybe next time" sort of message. I'm addicted to it. DSF: the first crush I can't get over, and all because of a tweet that night I was tired of browsing cat pictures. More so, Twitter influenced what I once-upon-a-time wanted to write or how I expected to do it after getting to connect with other writers, reading their work, and realizing that 1) I can improve so much more and there's no reason waiting for next week or next year where there's plenty of material to learn from online; and 2) writing truly is about taste. I'm not talking syntax or misspellings, but subject. The premise of a story can be trite or plain uninteresting for an editor, while at the same time being everything another editor has always wanted to publish. It surely helped me digest the rejection letters to the point where for those that do not mention some structural or plot-related issue, I can look at a story and say, "Okay. It went badly this time, but I have faith in it and believe it can go back out there with close to no re-writing." And it's this part I believe social media had more of an influence over me–in making me understand that it's an industry, there's no room for personal grudges in it, and perseverance plus finding the right set of eyes at the right time is what matters most.

You can read Willem's short story "Naughty You Dot Com" in our current issue. 

An Interview with Ron Riekki

Your story is set in prison, producing quite a tense and precarious atmosphere for its characters, paramedics tending to inmates...what inspired this story?
I've worked in a couple prisons. And my current coworkers have worked in prisons. So you talk about stories from those days. And then let things go into fiction territory.

Which writer or body of work has shaped your own writing and/or reading? 
I like a lot of the writers found in Cult Fiction: a reader's guide. I found that book in the Harvard Coop and it changed my life, or at least my writing life. I found authors in there who write transgressive fiction that has consistently shocked me in a good way—it was like an AED to the cardiac dysrhythmia that is so much of the (yawn) academic short stories that get presented to you in high school and college.

Read Ron's short story "O" in our current issue. 

An Interview with Steve Passey

Framing (broken) love stories through the structure of song and music is very engaging and feels very natural for this particular subject. How did it emerge for you in the drafting stage? 

The structure of three-minute songs—the chorus/verse x3 and then a fade-away coda—lent itself to drafting this story very naturally and it was an easy first draft. I probably wrote the first draft in under an hour. After that it was just editing. The raw material? Let's just say that it had been there a long time.

If you could assign a song title to any memorable relationship you've had, what would it be? 

"Still Waitin'" by Canadian Legends Big Sugar. As to what relationship? Ha! All of 'em! But in all seriousness if you want to to slow dance around the kitchen with your baby—or you just want to sit there with your dog and your beer thinking about what should have been—this is the song for you. Here's a video link. Twitter Handle is @CanadianCoyote1.

Read Steve's story "Like Break-Up Songs on the Radio (Prophecies of Regret About the Last Three Woman I'll Meet)."

An Interview with Emma Slolely

Your piece centers on an ostensibly anti-social couple who feel an obligation to host a party, a most highly social did these characters and the premise come into being? 

I don't mind confessing that there's an autobiographical aspect to the story! Like so many writers, I am fairly introverted and guard my private time fiercely. But there's no getting around the fact that humans are hard-wired to socialize, to enter however occasionally or reluctantly into the social contract. So I was drawn to this idea of a couple who are victims of these contradictory desires, who treasure their solitude but also feel a yearning for social connection. And what better way to torture this reclusive couple—whose ideal life involves spending time only with one another—than to force them to throw a party? I knew how I wanted to end the story before I'd even started writing it—the way they end up resolving their self-inflicted predicament felt pre-ordained.

Which writers or work(s) have influenced your writing? 

Writers like Margaret Atwood, Michael Cunningham, Edith Wharton, Vladimir Nabakov and Annie Proulx, while all writing within fairly different eras and frameworks, have always seemed to me to possess an almost superhuman ability to interrogate and reveal what it means to be alive and searching for meaning. If there's a common denominator to the books I love, I think it would be that there's this commingled sense of melancholy and hopefulness. I love stories that are sad but not bleak, if that makes sense.

Read Emma's story "The Day Of.

An Interview with M S Pallister

A family battle an owl and other creatures for rights to a banyan tree...what influenced this piece?

My mother, who lives in India, has a bonsai banyan tree in her house. It’s an absolutely beautiful plant with its perfectly heart-shaped leaves and tiny roots which become tiny subsidiary trunks of the tree. Yet, somehow, the miniature has always seemed artificial to me, like a picture of a large banyan tree. And I have wondered if there were a full-sized banyan tree in the house would my mother still look after it with as much care and love as she shows the bonsai, or would she try to cut it down. So “The Tree” came about as sort of a bonsai-version of our world where we must either live in symbiosis with nature or destroy it.

Which writer/body of work has informed your writing and/or inspired you?

I have from very early on, even before I wanted to be a writer, been influenced by the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, especially his short stories. His study of human nature and how people behave in the most unexpected way when faced with a crisis is remarkable. When I started writing, it was the element of magical realism in his work that really inspired me, and I began to experiment with it in different ways and settings. "The Tree” is the product of those experiments.

Read M S's short story "The Tree." 

An Interview with Buffy Shutt

This story has a terrific speculative plot—what inspired this piece?

The image of a shell and the first line I am shell came to me one day. I didn’t know where the image would take me. Into the story I began to realize I was exploring the intersection of life and unexpected death through the lens of prayer and memory loss.

Which writers/body of work have been important to you as a reader and/or a writer?

Oh so many! Today I will say Proust, Eliot, Austen, Dickens, James.
The short story writers, Alice Munro, John Updike, Grace Paley, Nadine Gordimer, Tillie Olsen, Colm Toibin, Roxane Gay.
The poets Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore.
On Writing: Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Stephen King's On Writing.
And the many mystery writers I read obsessively and admire for reminding and inspiring me to keep the pages turning. Today I will call out Chandler, Hammett, Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, Tana French, Denise Mina.

Read Buffy's short story "I Am a Shell." 



An Interview with Jeff Burt

A neighborhood vigilante group out to get a coyote...what influenced this piece? 

I am continually amazed, with the loss of a kitten or a small dog, how quickly people enlarge the roving marauder, if there even is one, from bobcat to mountain lion, from coyote to wolf, like the fish lengthening the further one gets from the water empty-handed. Soon sightings of pet-snatchers are reported in every neighborhood.
I am also amazed at the number of people who own guns, and the number of guns they possess—weapons that were not designed for home defense. And as statistics tell us, amateurs don’t have good outcomes using them.
Put these two things together, and you have the opportunity for misfortune.

Which writer or body of work has informed your writing and inspired you? 

Writers who have affected my perspective include Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, Louise Erdrich, John Steinbeck, Abraham Lincoln, and Pablo Neruda. I grew up in Wisconsin, surrounded by farm communities, and the shape of a story has probably been drawn from how farm men told stories at the gristmill and the fence line, or when church let out standing near their cars, and women massed around a kitchen table injecting commentary during the stories told by others. Growing up, I had a feeling no retelling was accurate, but all were true.

An Interview with Malcolm Friend

In "Cover: 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You'" you have crossed out the lines. Can you generally address this formal aspect and in particular how you would like it (or how would you expect it) to shape a reader's reception of the poem? 

 “Cover: ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’” actually came out of a very particular project I was working on, looking at bachata covers and sampling of popular songs originally by African American artists. As someone who comes from a mixed African American and Puerto Rican household, I was trying to work through the ways in which, though race and antiblackness function differently in the U.S. and Latin America, they still exist in both places. In particular I was interested in the question of whether an Afrolatinx artist (such as Toby Love, whose cover of Michael Jackson’s “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” I was working with in this poem) covering the song of an African American artist could be seen as building some sort of solidarity across the African diaspora. The strike through came about as a way to think about the cover as, especially with these songs that are crossing linguistic boundaries, there’s a good deal of replacement that goes on.

In terms of how to read it, that’s something that’s going to come differently to different readers. However, I was thinking a little bit about Basquiat, and the idea of crossing out words being something that draws attention to them. What I do hope, though, is that the reader feels a sort of intimacy when reading the crossed-out sections—a sense being given interiority.

 When or how did you first realize you were a poet? Can you address how this identity has changed for you, if at all?

I didn’t consider myself a poet when I first started writing poetry in high school. I didn’t really start to consider myself a poet until my junior year of college, when I decided poetry was the form of writing I wanted to dedicate myself to. I think from that moment on, the way I went about poetry changed for me. Before then, I mostly used poetry to make sure I was writing consistently. Once I started to see myself as a poet, poetry became a way to work through the issues important to me. It was a tool I could use to talk about my race and culture, to celebrate them and lament how they’re viewed and treated in society. The longer I’ve been a poet, the more this has become the case.

In light of our current political climate, we often see the phrase, "now more than ever." Do you feel this applies to poetry? If so, how?

I’m hesitant to say “now more than ever.” We’re obviously in very precarious times right now. People’s families and lives are at risk. But I don’t want to belittle or lessen the ways in which those lives have always been at risk. I also don’t want to idealize poetry in a certain way that makes it seem like those of us who are underrepresented and discriminated against and threatened haven’t been constantly making this art and fighting for our right simply to exist at the same time. What I will say is I think that, as always, we’re going to continue that work. We’re going to keep creating these small worlds within our poems because that’s how we go about trying to better the one we live in.

Read Malcolm's poems "Cover: 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You'" and "Ode To Stevie Wonder, or Mom Calls After Milwaukee and All I Can Do I Listen To 'I Wish.'"

An Interview with Matthew Thomas Meade

A story presented in artist bios—what inspired this structure? 

Imagining your bio, or someone reading your list of credits, is something that I think a lot of young artists do before they have any credits to talk about. At least I did. Once I actually tried to write one, however, I found that it was an anxiety ridden experience and one for which I was unprepared. I worried what including certain information and excluding other information would reveal about me. I started reading bios to see what I could learn about writing them and a piece sort of emerged out of that.  

I am interested in the relationship between the artist and her work and the bio is this strange, perfunctory, and false expression of the artist. Its goals are so amorphous. Who is the bio for, I found myself wondering. For other artists? For patrons? For consumers of the art? Does the bio change the piece of art?  

I was surprised to find that there is a poetry to the bio, a rhythm and a grammar that is unique to the form. Reading them requires a strange form of calculus because the details people reveal about themselves often don’t reveal anything at all, but the decision to include those details tells you more about the writer than the details themselves. The reader often has to unpack all the little coded messages included in the bio to understand how the artist is trying to position herself.
Also, I wanted to make up a bunch of funny names for literary & arts mags.  

If you could include something outrageous or less-known about yourself in a traditional bio, what would it be? Or in lieu of a bio, what might you include that represents you in a unique way? 

This question reveals me as a critic of the process with no real solutions of my own. There are so many things that wouldn’t traditionally appear in a bio that have shaped me and my fiction.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have a chip on my shoulder, for example, and that I am deeply paranoid and neurotic, but how am I supposed to express that in a 50-word bio without coming off as disingenuous or unwell? My relationship with my family, the experience of first seeing a Magritte, of attending a lecture Jim Jarmush gave about his work, of embarrassing myself at a party, of strange experiences I had as a kid, are all things that contribute to my perspective on the world, but that do not fit into the understood form of the bio.

Also, like a true hypocrite, I want my work to speak for itself, but I want to be able to use biographical information to contextualize the work of others. I want to be known to a reader, but I also want to remain private and keep my secrets hidden.  

Maybe everyone should just be forced to reveal whether or not they understand Major League Baseball’s infield fly rule and that will tell us enough about the writer to contextualize a story.  

Read Matthew's story "The Ineluctable Necessity of Self-Promotion." 

An Interview with Ted Lardner

Your essay is quite lyrical in its imagery, while densely packed with engaging moments and instances. Can you talk a little about your style, the shape of this piece? 

In "Postcard With Sleeper Cars and the Moffat Tunnel," I got interested in two formal features. One was narrative. In particular, the piece gradually became driven by the need to answer the questions:  What happened to that postcard? What was on it? Why did I throw it away? Thus, the piece, in my subjective experience of writing it, took on, for me, elements of a mystery, the threads of which reached into different strata, so to speak, of memory. The postcard became sort of a focal point for autobiographical and family-historical story lines.  
A second feature that became operative was more poetic. I wanted to order the piece in a way that allowed for a lot of nonlinear, almost free associative leaps. Put a different way, I wanted to hold back the forward progress of the narrative as much as possible, while keeping the energy alive, and the language interesting. Concretely, I began to conceive of each paragraph as an entity unto itself, loosely coupled to the paragraphs ahead and behind, yet with all of them rattling in the same general direction, like train cars. This is especially evident in the final section, the concluding paragraph, which I wrote in an effort to create a caboose for the essay. In the old days at least, the caboose was a completely other kind of car attached to the end of a freight train, a little house on wheels for the brakemen to inhabit. I wanted a caboose paragraph like that for this essay, that flew along at the end, with an almost completely different music in its wheels.

Which writer/body of work has informed your writing and/or inspired you? 

Some poets I keep near at almost all times, and I suspect that their tone, or approach to the world, is part of my sensibility as a writer. Some writers who I happen to be reading at the time become proximate influences. I happened to be reading The Dharma Bums again while working on this essay, and Kerouac's attention to sentences and sound in his prose was on my mind. At a deeper level I typically harbor the suspicion of being unfit for the style of today (see Kerouac reference, above). Creative nonfiction is a burgeoning genre in American writing, and memoir and personal narratives are ubiquitous. Much of it is gorgeous and crafted to an impeccable standard. Everything is explained, expertly! On the airwaves, such narrative writing shines, scaffolded by musical interludes, and voiceover narration. Which is all great.  But I hunger, I am ravenous, for writing that throws itself around. I want to write and to read writing that plays, that deals more loosely with its audience's imagined need for coherence, unity, and clarity of idea, that flirts with disaster, risking something even better in return.  I'm interested inaspire towardthe strains of creative nonfiction that make maximum use of sound, association, leaping, imagery, and feeling more than ratiocination.   

Read Ted's essay "Postcard With Sleeper Cars and the Moffat Tunnel."

An Interview with Jordan Floyd

Your essay "Fremont Blues" is an almost mythical portrayal of Vegas though it is based on your true experience. Tell us about it.  

The piece was largely influenced by two things. First, and most obviously, was my brief trip to Las Vegas. I've always been enchanted (which may be weird to say of such a vile place) by Las Vegas. The American Dream, after all, is somewhere near Las Vegas—at least, that's what Hunter S. Thompson thought. Walking down Fremont Street with my then girlfriend was a visceral experience: I was surrounded by gold-plated and flashing decay; sex, sex, and more sex; and most strikingly, a general feeling of in-authenticity. It's that feeling that brings me to my second influence: my own feelings of in-authenticity as a writer and in my relationship, again, with my then girlfriend. I felt that I had nothing new to say. I am a white, middle-class, and heterosexual male—authors like Tom Wolfe and Jack Kerouac, to my mind, had already said everything white, middle-class, and heterosexual males have ever had to say. As such, I tried to draw from Langston Hughes and blues poetry—an artist and art that I believed had a distinct originality. From that, I think my feelings of in-authenticity only increased. And of course, on top of all that, I felt in-authentic in my relationship with my then girlfriend. I'll spare the reader that explanation. 

What's your writing process?

My writing process in ten steps. Step one: write a lot, read the writing, and hate it. Step two: drink a beer. Step three: ruminate on my feelings of hatred toward my writing. Step four: realize that my writing isn't absolutely terrible. Step five: drink another beer (for good measure, maybe a third). Step six: forget about my writing for a couple weeks. Step seven: revisit my writing and, you know, do the whole editing and work-shopping thing with my (truly) fabulous writing peers and professors. Step eight: put some finishing touches on the piece, or, if needed, rewrite the whole damn thing (this happens all too often). Step nine: realize that there is no more beer in the fridge. Step ten: drive to the store to buy beer.