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I first met Gayle Brandeis in an online workshop taught by Lidia Yuknavitch. I had no idea who this woman was, that she’d written multiple books, but I knew her prose made me sit up straight and take note. It was only later, when I became Facebook friends with her, that I realized how accomplished she was. Brandeis has written several novels, including The Book of Dead Birds, Delta Girls, and My Life with the Lincolns; the writing guide Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write; and a book of poetry, The Selfless Bliss of the Body. Her newest book is a memoir entitled The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving my Mother’s Suicide. Brandeis is that rare writer who can write fiction, reportage, nonfiction, and poetry—and do it well—and this is apparent in her memoir.

Knowing Brandeis as a person, and having read the book and its themes of motherhood and daughterhood, I am so glad that she is kicking off this series. She found the time to do a little back-and-forth with me to discuss the memoir, as well as the confluence of writing and motherhood. Continue reading

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Non-Fiction by Non-Men: Daisy Hernández

Daisy Hernández is the author of A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir and coeditor of Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism. The former editor of ColorLines magazine, she has written for The Atlantic, The New York Timesand NPR’s All Things Considered and CodeSwitch, and her essays have appeared in the Bellingham Review, Fourth Genre, Gulf Coast, Hunger Mountain, The Rumpus, and TricycleShe is an Assistant Professor in the Creative Writing Program at Miami University in Ohio.

EB: What first attracted you to writing nonfiction?

DH: It’s interesting because now that I teach nonfiction [at the college level], I start with the premise that we don’t really teach students in high school and elementary school to look at nonfiction as a genre. We’re big on fiction and poetry, but we don’t look at nonfiction in the same way, and yet we have young students engaged with nonfiction all the time through essay-writing—torturing them with it. Continue reading

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What Do I Do With All Of This Fear?: An Interview with Megan Stielstra

Megan Stielstra’s new essay collection, The Wrong Way to Save Your Life, is a guidebook to living in troubled times. I found myself putting the book down to draw out the time I had with it. Each essay is urgent and impassioned, unique and universal, a reminder we’re not alone.

Jaime Rochelle Herndon: Your other book is also an essay collection. How did you come to essay writing?

Megan Stielstra: In high school I was the kind of geek who cut class to hang out at the library. I’d sit on the floor, reading Tolkien, Atwood, Virginia Woolf, but the kicker was Richard Wright’s Black Boy. In chapter 13, the character of Richard gets a library card for the first time and, in reading novels, he’s able to understand people who are different than himself. There I was, a sixteen-year-old girl in super-sheltered, small-town Michigan, having this profound connection with an adult man in the Jim Crow South. It was the first of many stops in an ongoing dialogue I have with myself about the enormity of our world and my own responsibility and privilege within it. Continue reading

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The Literary Tourist Interviews Philip Boehm

The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews playwright, theatrical director, and translator Philip Boehm. Philip has translated numerous novels and plays from German and Polish, including Hanna Krall’s Chasing the King of Hearts. Chasing the King of Hearts is a compelling work of literary reportage about of a Holocaust survivor with a unique story.

Andrea Gregovich: Chasing the King of Hearts is the story of Izolda, a Jewish woman who doesn’t so much escape the Holocaust as connive her way through it. She’s so clever she could find a way to escape the occupied area entirely, but she’s determined to stay and get her husband out of Auschwitz. Izolda thought about turning her story into a book for years, and rejected more than one author before she started working with Hanna Krall. What is it about Izolda’s story that is so urgent and unique? Continue reading

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The Literary Tourist Interviews Sanna Dhahir

The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews Sanna Dhahir, Dean of the College of Science and Humanities at Effat University in Saudi Arabia and translator of Hend and the Soldiers by Badriah Albeshr. Hend and the Soldiers, a book that explores women’s sexuality and experience in Saudi culture, was banned by the government of Saudi Arabia.

Andrea Gregovich: I’m excited to talk to you about this book, because it’s a perfect example of how literary translation can be urgent and necessary, bringing hidden and oppressed voices to a global audience. How rare is an authentic female voice in the literature of Saudi Arabia, and just how groundbreaking is this book?

Sanna Dhahir: Thank you for giving me the chance to talk about my translation of Albeshr’s novel, a work I truly wanted to render in English for its literary merits and timely subjects.

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The Story of Displacement: Q&A with Hala Alyan

Salt Houses, Hala Alyan’s multigenerational first novel about a Palestinian family, is a richly layered story of devastation, rebuilding, and making your way home, when you’re not even sure where that is anymore. As a Jew who believes strongly in the importance of a Jewish homeland, I wanted to read Salt Houses for a different perspective—to hear the stories I might not have heard otherwise. I asked Alyan some questions about the book and our current sociopolitical climate.

Q: You’re Palestinian-American. How much of this story is drawn from your family history and how much is part of the larger cultural story?

A: I borrowed structural elements from my familial history, in terms of the countries that appear in the book and the way the family in Salt Houses is displaced more than once. I wanted to keep the focus on this one particular family’s story, while also nodding to the larger sociopolitical context that housed it. I was inspired by the tradition of storytelling in Arab communities, and how that is a way of reclaiming history and identity. More generally, I was inspired by the resilience of refugees and immigrants I’ve come across in my personal and professional life, and I wanted to honor the story of displacement by unpacking it as honestly as I could. Continue reading

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