Friday, July 3, 2015

Interview with The Blunt Instrument

I had a conversation with Elisa Gabbert over at Electric Literature about the reaction to her Blunt Instrument advice column where she tackled the "white male writer and equality in publishing" problem.

As I stated in the intro to our conversation, I have a horse in this race, being bi-racial, and running a school library that serves a population that is 94% people of color. Running a school library means that every year I select books and materials to purchase for pleasure reading and to support the school curriculum. I have a fair amount of power in this position considering I am given (a mere) $6.25 per student with which to purchase materials. That averages out to about $8,000 a year, and I spend every penny. Yet, every year I look for books by black, Latino, Asian American, Muslim, LGBTQ, etc. etc. etc. writers writing about these people and issues, and most books on offer are by and about white men and women. That's when it feels like white supremacy; that's what it looks like. This is not a theoretical problem, so we need concrete solutions.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

How Do We Live? Why?

I interviewed Hanya Yanagihara for Electric Literature about many things, one of them being suicide, another being the emotional capacities of men. We corresponded by e-mail over the course of a few weeks. I'd started following her Instagram feed and each day I saw her lush photos from Sri Lanka, while most days I had a view of the BQE.

Art plays a big part in her novel, A Little Life, and she wrote about the artworks that inspired the novel over at New York Magazine.

A view of the BQE isn't all bad, though. I found some drums there and took two of them:



And sometimes I think the dollar store is my natural habitat:

Other days I write wishes on a crane and send it off on its way:


Saw Courtney Barnett the other day at a last minute invitation and met a woman from Canada. Days like that are reason enough. Here's Courtney Barnett at SXSW.




Monday, May 18, 2015

I Get Superstitious

In the winter I interviewed Elisa Ambrogio and Naomi Yang for the Rumpus. That entire adventure fell into my lap because I tweeted a link to a blog post I wrote about Elisa's video for Superstitious; she RTed, and then I asked if I could interview her and Naomi. Sometimes you just have to ask for things.

I'm happy to say that Elisa scored a major publicity boost last week when the New York Times T Magazine ran a short post on her new video for "Arkansas". Check it out! Her record is great and more people should be listening.

I have some forthcoming interviews with writers set to run in Electric Literature. Stay tuned.

And here's a plug for Okey Panky, a literary journal under the EL umbrella, run by writers and editors who have been friends and mentors for a long time. Elisa Gabbert's poems in last week's issue are fantastic.

A taste:

We had crossed into
November. I spoke
of my desire. I said desire

but I meant longing.
Desire is despair
with sex mixed in.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Permissive Playground/ Menacing Nightmare

I interviewed writer Dylan Landis over at Electric Literature. I loved "Rainey Royal," a book about a tough but vulnerable teenage girl making her way through 1970s New York City. Landis talks about writing in a way that is both instructive and inspiring, and she also talks about pre-gentrification New York City in a way that acknowledges that there was real danger with the grit, but that's not necessarily something that turns off a teenage girl.

"Rainey Royal" was the first book I'd read in a long time that I felt truly represented what it was like to grow up in New York City. There's actually a Latina in the book! If you go by the fiction published in America you'd think there were no Latinos in New York City.

Something that Landis talks about in the interview is how dangerous New York was, but that didn't stop teenagers like Rainey Royal from treating New York like a playground. We also talked about sexual assault and harassment and how it is and isn't talked about. There are definitely people and things I encountered that I should have told an adult about but I didn't because freedom seemed a tradeoff for safety (up to a point, I'll say--I'm lucky in that I've never been sexually assaulted). When I worked at the Strand when I was nineteen I used to take my break outside and eat a banana on the corner of 12th street. I wasn't trying to be provocative, I just liked eating bananas. Anyway, I was just minding my business and despite my giving no indication that I was interested, an older co-worker repeatedly tried to buy me candy bars and ask me on dates. I wondered what I was doing wrong that he didn't stop bothering me, but he should have stopped after the first time. And then there was the sweaty man with the crooked glasses who asked me if I would come to his studio to have my pictures taken. He asked me once and then forgetting that he'd already asked me, he asked me again the next week and was startled to recognize me once I showed my fear and anger at being harassed by a creep. All I could think was, this fucker thinks I'm going to let him take naked pictures of my like Coco from the movie Fame! The worst, scariest thing was when I stupidly let a co-worker from a telemarketing job drive me home. He was so much older I just assumed he was taking a fatherly interest in me (how naive I was to think men older than 40 thought 18 year olds were off limits). It became clear that he had other ideas when he told me that his last girlfriend had been 17 and that he liked a girl to be a lady on the street and a tiger in the sheets. Yes! He actually said that. This was pre-cell phones so I just prayed to all the gods in the pantheon of gods I'd ever witnessed in any house of worship that he simply drop me off at home and not take me to the Bronx where he said he lived. He did simply take me home but not before scaring me and making me vow to myself to never get into a car with a man again. I didn't tell my mother but I immediately called a friend and she yelled at me to be more careful. I was. I tried to be. When we don't talk about these things we think it's just us or that these are isolated incidents, but they happen to women all the time and not just when you're 18, 19, whatever. In the fall I took a yellow taxi home and after some idle chit chat the cab driver said that I was very sexually attractive and that if a man didn't think so, not even viagra would help. Men can't possibly think that this feels like a compliment--there has to be a part of them that knows that this feels like a threat, even if that knowledge is subconscious, it's there, and still, they say these things.

Read the interview. She's great.




Saturday, May 17, 2014

"I've been accused of underestimating eternity"

I don't go in for writing exercises or journal keeping, though I do keep notebooks where I write notes and assorted miscellany related to what I am writing at the time. Sometimes these are just lists of the stories I have completed, and wish to complete. Like a track listing for a theoretical hit (you hope) record, or in this case, a short story collection everyone tells you that you need to pair with a novel if you have any hope of selling it (and even then, good luck, you nobody). The only time I keep a diaristic journal is when I am experiencing a moment of crisis. I might have been writing diaristic journal entries in the very recent past...

That said, a poet recently told me people should translate poetry from other languages (even if they do not understand them) into English. This sounds like a good idea. I had some students translate Chinese poems from Chinese into English (they could read Chinese better than they understood English) and the results were interesting.

Somewhat related, I've been getting back into the Silver Jews. I wore my jean jacket to our gig last night and panicked when I thought I lost it. Not because of the jacket itself, but because I didn't want to lose the nifty Silver Jews button I'd pinned to it with pride. (I'd left it on the stage.)

I am injured, though my leg injury is such that I was able to play the kick drum without much difficulty, but I wasn't able to carry any equipment. Poor guys. I am taking it easy today but I wanted to do something productive so I transcribed a David Berman poem he recited at a library in Florida. (It's on youtube, naturally.) I thought this exercise could only do good things to my brain and yield positive results on my own writing, whenever I get back to it. Maybe tomorrow, maybe later in the day.

Here are the links:

http://youtu.be/5dl__2ILE8k
http://youtu.be/Tqt1r6Xssh4
http://youtu.be/9n8XSxi4fJs

Here is my transcription:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/6qphrrg5nber93c/Transcribed%20David%20Berman%20poem%20found%20on%20youtube.doc

Any errors in line breaks or spacing are mine. I am not a poet and I was guessing from what was said.