Wisdom from Writers: A Conversation with Sequoia Nagamatsu

Art is a rich vehicle for critique. We’ve all been forced out of our everyday lives in a way that allows us to both create and consume art from a quasi-outsider perspective—maybe more objective, maybe more thoughtful about who we used to be, what the world used to be, and how we’ve all changed in the past couple of years. What do we miss? What do we never want to go back to? How were we surprised at how much we adapted to a particular aspect of lockdown? Who did we talk to? Who did we want to reach out to?

I recently spoke with author Sequoia Nagamatsu about his debut novel, How High We Go in the Dark, the role of art in an emergency, science fiction faves, and more.You can read the full interview here on The Rumpus.

While there have certainly been moments over the past year that may have temporarily diminished my faith in the human species, I think what gives me a sense of possibility are my students—young, smart people who legitimately care about the planet, are already doing so much for their communities, and are thinking intentionally about how their chosen disciplines might help provide for a better future in even small or unexpected ways.

Find out more about Sequoia Nagamatsu on sequoianagamatsu.com. Sequoia’s book How High We Go in the Dark (January 2022) is available from William Morrow.

Wisdom from Writers: A Conversation with Ian Ross Singleton

“I think each of us speak multiple languages. Not necessarily whole different tongues like Russian and English, but we speak different glosses. I like to think of those as languages.”

I recently spoke with author Ian Ross Singleton about his own changing identity throughout the writing of Two Big Differences, as well as the many ways language and translation are transmitted and embodied throughout his debut novel.You can read the full interview here on Fiction Writers Review.

 Humor really is the Odessan language. We talked about Isaac Babel, who is arguably the most quintessential Odessan writer (and you can’t make up a name like that, talking about the relationship to the Tower of Babel). So of course I had to have an epigraph from Isaac Babel, and it’s where the title comes from. The idea of “Two Big Differences”—that in itself is a joke. Odessa is so different, there’s two big differences.

Find out more about Ian Ross Singleton on singletonian.com. Ian’s book Two Big Differences (October 2021) is available from MGraphics.

Oh, to live another year with books

It’s always a bit staggering — to find oneself and the world arriving yet again at a December 31st. Here we are, on the precipice of hope, and yet, how easy it is to feel the loss of the year past — how we want to hold so much in ourselves at once.

It has become a tradition of mine to celebrate December 31st with a remembrance and appreciation for some books I encountered during the year, books that brought company, wisdom, linguistic splendor, and perspective — for in times of uncertainty, books are a stalwart, omnipresent friend. Throughout electric days, blue days, and the always-prowling fog, look — a book is here, waiting to sing to you as you hold each other close.

It would be impossible to include them all, but here is a sampling of a few books I would like to highlight: texts that were exquisitely staining and impactful to me in one way or another —  and have inevitably shattered and rearranged my glass body, my glass path … books that after reading, I will never be quite the same.

2021 was a year in which I also became reacquainted with the audiobook — a wonderful format to slow down, marvel at the sound of language on a tongue, and invite voices and oral storytelling into our private ear rooms. The book via the voice vessel becomes a secret companion on so many walks. Another reminder that a life with books is a life of abundance.  A star next to a book title means that I listened to and enjoyed the audiobook version, and you might enjoy it, too! (Hint: Did you know you can borrow audiobooks from your library system through the Libby app?)

So, on this pensive day of old and new, I give a fizzy thanks to those who write books, make books, bind books, share books, give books, read books, and love books! Happy New Year, and Happy Reading.

(in no particular order:)

I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart

Pew by Catherine Lacey

Ace: What Asexuality Reveals about Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen

Another Country by James Baldwin *

Cleanness by Garth Greenwell *

Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency by Olivia Laing

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon *

Poet Warrior by Joy Harjo

The Pastor by Hanne Ørstavik, translated by Martin Aitken

The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar

Figuring by Maria Popova *

Sleep, Death’s Brother by Jesse Ball

Bestiary by K-Ming Chang

The Twilight Zone by Nona Fernández, translated by Natasha Wimmer

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

Two Big Differences by Ian Ross Singleton

Keen by Erin Stalcup

How I Became a Nun by César Aira, translated by Chris Andrews

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer *

Water I Won’t Touch by Kayleb Rae Candrilli

Woolgathering by Patti Smith

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich *

Wisdom from Writers: A Conversation with Joanna Eleftheriou

An opposition to politicized forgetting is precisely the task of art. We are responsible, as artists, for documenting, witnessing, and remembering even those truths that are not in our political interest to recall…I believe we are called to recover whatever truths we have the knowledge and the desire to hunt down, those are the truths we are required (by some sacred unwritten universal law) to write down and preserve.

I recently talked with author Joanna Eleftheriou about her debut essay collection, This Way Back, how to engage in the dialectic of identity, confront the privilege of choosing an identity, and how writers prioritize discovery. You can read the full interview here on The Common Online.

We deserve to see ourselves in art. We deserve to see ourselves on TV. There is no greater anguish than the sense of not-existing that our absence in (popular) culture incurs.

Find out more about Joanna Eleftheriou on joannaeleftheriou.com. Joanna’s book This Way Back (September 2020) is available from West Virginia University Press.

Wisdom from Writers: A Conversation with Lara Ehrlich

I’m striving to approach my writing with renewed joy, to recognize that motherhood—in all of its messy, infuriating, exhilarating ups and downs—informs my writing like no other experience.

I recently talked with author Lara Ehrlich about her prize-winning debut story collection, Animal Wife, and the possibility, power, and resilience steeping within. You can read the full interview here on CRAFT.

That defiance against becoming the thing we are told we should become plays through the rest of the stories, in different forms. We’re told we should be mothers, and that we should devote our whole selves to motherhood. To me, the answer is not to refuse motherhood—it’s to choose for ourselves how we define motherhood. We’re told we should act like ladies. The answer is not to act like men, but to choose for ourselves what it means to be a woman. That is the true resistance.

*

Find out more about Lara Ehrlich on laraehrlich.com. Lara’s book Animal Wife (September 2020) is available from Red Hen Press.

…& books

While 2020 was tumultuous and strange in so many ways, books continuously bring light and connection and hope. The following list is an appreciation for some of the books that brought company, wisdom, and perspective during so many shadowy days.
Flights by Olga Tokarczuk
The Divers’ Game by Jesse Ball
The Frolic of the Beasts by Yukio Mishima
Virtuoso by Yelena Moskovich
The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala
Lady Liberty by Joan Marans Dim
Remove to Play by Lia Woodall
Glitter Up the Dark by Sasha Geffen
A History of My Brief Body by Billy-Ray Belcourt
Ogadinma by Ukamaka Olisakwe
Summertime Fine by Jason B. Crawford
Animal Wife by Lara Ehrlich
Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith
Julián at the Wedding by Jessica Love
A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
Heaven by Emerson Whitney
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Tomboyland by Melissa Faliveno
This Way Back by Joanna Eleftheriou
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez
Child of Glass by Beatrice Alemagna

New Piece “Greening” at Tiny Molecules

I have a new piece up at Tiny Molecules called “Greening,” which is the first in a series of pieces investigating and exploring my lifetime obsession with the Statue of Liberty. A huge thanks to Kelsey Ipsen at Tiny Molecules for believing in it and being wonderful to work with!

Now here she is again, definitive as a door. She wants to turn into metal, or me, and all I can do is green all the time. And so I green to her: When were you something no one expected you to be. Which is to say I greened to myself.

When I was writing and revising this piece, the wanting and the yearning was so present in me. Perhaps this is a result of the loneliness embodied by the pandemic and the tragedies of 2020. Or perhaps it is something else. I remember making a list to myself of “what I wanted” from this piece — a list for the reader as much as for the writer. The list went on: I want this piece to transport the reader to Liberty Island, neck craned looking up. I want immediacy, obsession, and awe to be in every line. I want this piece to be tactile even without the characters touching each other. I want to write with an honor, a reverence for both the statue as statue and the statue as woman. I want the pleasure and the nerves. I want to write a queer ode to a statue who might be the most living and mysterious thing I’ve ever known. I want to write something that inherently has secrets and layers and things unsaid. I want this piece to be about the self unknown, the discovering self, the self that is striving to become something they’ve always longed to be. 

I think about the millions of people over centuries who have seen the Statue of Liberty as a paragon of freedom. Who have found salvation from this woman. And how I too have found life and wonder and hope in her. I recognize that I’m not coming to her as a refugee or an immigrant. I’m coming to her from some other place. I’m looking for a different kind of answer from her. “Greening,” to me, is a search, a fantasy, an alchemy. Or simply put, a love letter.

I hope this piece allows you to green, too, if you need it.

Wisdom from Writers: A Conversation with Jihyun Yun

In the collection, the mouths of the three main speakers struggle to articulate a kinder world still unfathomable to them, in efforts to forge a path there. Articulation is conjuring. I believe it’s the realest magic our bodies are capable of.

I recently talked with poet Jihyun Yun about her prize-winning debut poetry collection, Some are Always Hungry; the mouth as metaphor; a few favorite Korean fairy tales; and the ways in which language connects food, women, and violence. You can read the full interview here on The Rumpus.

I do find it very troubling in itself that it’s easier to imagine the female body as food, as something hunted, as prey, but I think it’s also speaking to a truth of how language, too, can be a knife, and how it is often brandished.

*

Find out more about Jihyun Yun on jihyunyun.com. Jihyun’s book Some are Always Hungry (September 2020) is available from University of Nebraska Press.

Wisdom from Writers: A Conversation with Yelena Moskovich

I am constantly being interrupted by my characters, major and minor. I believe in the benevolence of interruptions. It is my way of communing with something beyond me, to let myself be thrown off my intended path, to be thrown off knowing. It’s a sort of disappointment, I’m literally being disappointed from my place of knowing. For me, in art as in life, I am very curious about the creative power of these metaphorical and literal disappointments.

I recently talked with novelist Yelena Moskovich about her newest novel, Virtuoso; conformity; rebellion; post-soviet diaspora; the textures of ideology; writing queer desire; the trauma of flight; and much more. You can read the full interview here on MQR Online.

Our cosmic song, as we have it now, is very much off-key. But there is also beauty and meaning in discord. My current contribution is mainly to listen. My next verse is one I give from my open ears.

*

You can follow Yelena Moskovich on Twitter and Instagram. Yelena’s book Virtuoso (January 2020) is available from Two Dollar Radio.

Wisdom from Writers: A Conversation with Sarah Rose Etter

The first line came to me, and it hung out in my head like a buzzing fly…It felt like a door was opening, and all I had to do was step through it and follow the path beyond.

I recently talked with novelist Sarah Rose Etter about her debut novel, The Book of X; tragic characters; volcanic landscapes; how to ground readers in surrealism; and more. You can read the full interview here in CRAFT Literary.

Explore, have fun, be an artist on the page. Don’t limit yourself to writing what you’ve been taught. Write what is in your guts. Go into the mud.

*

Find out more about Sarah Rose Etter at sarahroseetter.com. Sarah’s book The Book of X (July 2019) is available from Two Dollar Radio.