I first read Melissa Febos while in my MFA program. Her memoir Whip Smart was next to the register of my local indie bookstore, and I picked it up while the cashier was helping the person in front of me. This was years ago, but I remember it well, because her memoir of her work as a professional dominatrix was unlike anything I’d ever read before. Her new book, Abandon Me, is a collection of luminescent autobiographical essays—stories about bonds that break, fierce love, and what makes a family, all shot through with art and passion. It defies easy description or categorization, and begs to be reread, to be unpeeled, layer after layer.
Jaime Rochelle Herndon: Abandon Me feels more “bare bones,” somehow, than Whip Smart. More raw or vulnerable. On page 196, you say, about Whip Smart: “By building a story, I could find a beginning, middle, and end.” Does this also apply to Abandon Me? Continue reading
The Art of Waiting is a hybrid memoir from Belle Boggs, author of the 2010 novel Mattaponi Queen. It tells the story of Boggs’s journey through infertility and IVF, but it also examines fertility, motherhood, and assisted reproduction, and how these fit into our society and culture. Drawing from medicine, theater, literature, personal experience, anecdotes, and biology, Boggs writes about motherhood in a smart, unsentimental, incisive way.
I knew from the moment I read about this book on a friend’s Facebook post that I had to read it. As a medical writer with a degree in maternal-child health and a background working in ob/gyn, and as a new mother who used assisted reproductive technology to conceive my son, I can tell you this: The Art of Waiting does not disappoint. Boggs’s prose is quiet but powerful, and she did her research in every way.
Jamie Rochelle Herndon: This is not merely a memoir; it feels to me like a cultural exploration/commentary/criticism, almost a sociological memoir, if that makes sense. What made you decide to write it like that, instead of a straight memoir? Continue reading
Maggie Nelson is the author of The Argonauts, Bluets, The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial, and several other books of poetry and non-fiction. The Argonauts won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism and was a New York Times bestseller. Nelson has been the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an NEA Fellowship in Poetry.
Colter Ruland: I first read your work in an undergraduate poetry workshop where we were assigned Bluets. It was, without a doubt, the highlight of the reading list. It demonstrated how one can write about complicated ideas and be vulnerable concerning one’s personal narrative. Is writing from the personal a way for you to then engage with broader ideas, or is it the other way around?
Maggie Nelson: Thank you, and I’m glad you read Bluets as an undergrad! You know I don’t think of the personal and “bigger ideas” as opposite or even separate spheres of inquiry, per se. I often conceive of myself as doing the non-genius version of what Wittgenstein was doing when he would ask questions like, Can my right hand give my left hand money? It’s your body and it’s also a complex idea at the same time. As it should be.
CR: In many ways you’re breaking down hierarchies of language and subject matter, eliminating the sort of stuffy question of what can and cannot be put into conversation with one another. In The Argonauts, you write about your pregnancy and your partner Harry Dodge taking T, and it can occupy the same space as your and Harry’s (hilarious, insightful) interpretations of X-Men: First Class. Continue reading
An Interview with Fortunato Salazar and William VanDenBerg
William VanDenBerg: I’ve been thinking (perhaps because of watching a ridiculous amount of Olympics coverage) of the concept of training as a writer. How we get better? How we develop? How we improve? So—and this might be a ridiculously broad question—how do you feel you’ve developed as a writer? What sort of things have pushed you forward?
Fortunato Salazar: Because I’ve gone without formal training as a writer, I wouldn’t want to press too hard any skepticism I might have about the value of training. I’ll just say that in my own experience, I don’t see much evidence for a belief in control over how or whether I improve. I just assume that if I put in the time, make the effort, stay out of trouble, watch my back, either I’ll improve or I won’t; basically all I can do is hold up my end of the bargain.
You on the other hand are receiving formal training as a writer—you’ve just finished your first year in the MFA program at Brown. What’s the biggest surprise you’ve encountered in the MFA universe? Continue reading
photo by Catherine Opie
I can’t remember the first time I heard of Eileen Myles, but I remember singing along to Le Tigre’s feminist anthem “Hot Topic,” in which they list feminist, LGBTQ, and progressive artists. Myles is one of them. When Inferno came out, I saw the reviews on my Facebook feed, and knew I had to read this book, subtitled “a poet’s novel.” The writing felt like Myles was talking right to me.
Myles taught a class in my graduate writing program, and I immediately signed up. We studied all kinds of works, in all genres, and she challenged us to read and write things that pushed up against the boundaries we had set for ourselves—and the boundaries that were set for us. That’s when I first read Chelsea Girls.
Chelsea Girls has recently been reissued, along with a collection of Myles’ old and new poems, I Must be Living Twice. Myles took time out of her book tour to answer a few questions.
I know you’ve been with smaller publishing houses before, but Ecco and HarperCollins are pretty big. What prompted the switch. Do you think this has any bigger implications for poetry? Continue reading
I first read Lidia Yuknavitch’s anti-memoir, The Chronology of Water, in 2012, and I have carried my copy in my purse or tote bag ever since. The cover is frayed, impossibly bent, and held together with tape. After being lucky enough to get an advance copy of her latest novel, The Small Backs of Children, I now carry around that, too.
The Small Backs of Children is a book about a girl. But it’s also about art-making, life-making, motherlove, creating family, and overcoming the things life hurls at us. The book centers around The Writer, a woman whose daughter died in utero and was later stillborn. After The Writer is hospitalized, her friends and family rally around her to bring her back. They remember a photograph that she loved; that of a girl in a war-torn village, backlit by an explosion that killed her family. They decide to find that girl and bring her to the States, hoping to ease The Writer’s suicidal depression.
But what happens when people from very different worlds come together? How does one decision affect the lives of everyone involved? What bursts forth from this decision? Through different point of views, the stories in The Small Backs of Children begin to unravel. Continue reading