Category Archives: interview

Interview with Belle Boggs

belle-boggs

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

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Interview with Maggie Nelson

maggie-nelson

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

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MFAs and What You’re Missing

mfas and what you're missing

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

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“We Also Get to Be Big”: An Interview with Eileen Myles

Eileen Myles

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

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Interview with Lidia Yuknavitch

Lidia Yuknavitch

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

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THE PARIS RE-INTERVIEW: Ismet Prcic

Ismet Prcic, The Art of Fiction No. 1

Re-Interviewed by Brian Hurley

Shards by Ismet Prcic is the story of a Bosnian teenager who flees his war-torn country by falling in with a theater troupe. We’ve been raving about this novel since July 2009, and it seems to be catching on. Shards was triumphantly reviewed in The New York Times, where it was named a Notable Book of 2011, and today it was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

In the first installment of a new feature here at Fiction Advocate, we asked Ismet Prcic a number of questions selected (stolen) from past interviews in The Paris Review. These questions were originally answered by Woody Allen, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Ray Bradbury, Czeslaw Milosz, Salman Rushdie, and Gunter Grass.

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INTERVIEWER

Were you funny as a kid?

PRCIC

I was a funny-looking kid with a gargantuan head and a big ass. Most of my childhood was spent in a constant state of fear. Humor and clowning around were a way to survive elementary school. At that age I already suspected that the world was rigged. The first day of high school, knowing that nobody would know who I am, I created a funny, uncouth persona who wasn’t afraid to appear foolish, who didn’t care what people thought about him. It was amazing how my life changed after that, how much more fun I had from then on. It wasn’t until college in the U.S. that I learned about something called the performative nature of identity. Steve Martin has a joke about that. Someone asks him how he can be so fuckin’ funny and he answers that every morning he puts a bologna sandwich under each of his arms and he just feels funny.

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INTERVIEWER

Who are the writers who made you first want to write?

PRCIC

The first book that put the seed in my head of one day maybe being a writer was Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse. My mother’s copy of it was interesting to my fifteen-year-old self because the final part of the novel, “FOR MADMAN ONLY,” was printed in bright red. Mother said the book was probably too mature for me, and I should wait to read it. Of course I didn’t listen, and the book messed me up. I still remember viscerally how excited I felt when I realized what freedom a writer had to affect the reader by sheer manipulation of symbols on the page. Later, in Croatia, waiting for my immigration papers to arrive, I read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and was smitten. That’s the one that actually made me pick up a notebook and start writing a book. I still have it somewhere. It’s called The Man from the Light Bulb. It’s terrible, but you have to knock off some of those early books before you find the one that works.

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INTERVIEWER

Was your family supportive of your writing?

PRCIC

Nobody knew. I finished The Man from the Light Bulb in America while I was staying with my aunt and uncle. It was a little tense living with them for a while. I would walk to a local book store, find a quiet nook, and write until closing time. Once I took a writing class that my uncle paid for. I showed him my first assignment, a letter to an ancestor, and after reading the first paragraph while shaking his head, he told me I should start with action right away, the way Michael Crichton does. It was a foregone conclusion that we should one day find ourselves estranged.

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INTERVIEWER

Where did you do your acting?

PRCIC

In a dusty storage room of a youth center in Tuzla, at the Tuzla National Theater, in the performance space of the Army Headquarters, in an empty pond in the city park, on the streets of Edinburgh (I once almost got my head kicked in by a soccer hooligan in front of a pub in Grass Market district for refusing to get out of character), at the Riverside Studios in London, at Moorpark College, UCSD, and that’s about it, not including acting in real life, which is pretty much constant.

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INTERVIEWER

How autobiographical is your writing? And in what way?

PRCIC

“Life story” is an oxymoron. The only thing life and story have in common is that they have a beginning, middle and an end. That’s where the resemblance ends. I have a problem with autobiographies being called non-fiction. I can’t stand that we as readers are willing to constantly trick ourselves into believing that something as chaotic as a life, perceived through a set of fallible senses and filtered through a biased, fallible brain, translated into imperfect language, shoved into a box of orderly form called autobiography and edited for boredom is considered “true.” Shards is autobiographical in the sense that Ismet Prcic, the narrator, has been to some places I have, and done some things that I have. But Shards is in no way my life story, in no way “true.”

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INTERVIEWER

Can you give us an example of fiddling with the truth in order to arrive at a better fiction?

PRCIC

In order for me to juxtapose what really happened to me in Scotland and how that changed in the book, you would have to trust me that I know or recall what really occurred. Why would you believe me? Why would you believe any human to be capable of doing that? Story is the only truth we can have. We have to be satisfied with that.

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INTERVIEWER

What distortion of yourself do you find most troubling?

PRCIC

The weird thing is that I don’t feel troubled by these distortions of my identity. Other people seem more troubled. I got a pretty nasty letter from my paternal aunt who cursed me and my future children because I “blackened” my father’s name. She didn’t even read the book herself.

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INTERVIEWER

Could you possibly write an apolitical book?

PRCIC

All art is political by default. Even when you consciously try not to be political the absence of politics is making a political statement of sorts.

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INTERVIEWER

So how do you envision man’s future?

PRCIC

Which man? You gotta be more specific.

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INTERVIEWER

You once wrote a poem dedicated to Einstein.

PRCIC

No I didn’t. Who told you that? Eric? He’s lyin’!

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– Fiction Advocate

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