Tag Archives: interview

Ijeoma Oluo Has the Last Word on Rachel Dolezal

In The Stranger, Ijeoma Oluo traveled to Spokane, Washington to sit at the kitchen table with Rachel Dolezal, who is jobless and living in a month-to-month rental, hoping her new book will start something, anything, to get money coming in.

Oluo thinks the meeting may have been a bad idea, (“I was half sure that this interview was my worst career decision to date”) but the result is a master class in confrontation, in which the hard questions are asked, answers are pushed, and frustrations laid bare.

There was a moment before meeting Dolezal and reading her book that I thought that she genuinely loves black people but took it a little too far. But now I can see this is not the case. This is not a love gone mad. Something else, something even sinister is at work in her relationship and understanding of blackness.

There is a chapter where she compares herself to black slaves. Dolezal describes selling crafts to buy new clothes, and she compares her quest to craft her way into new clothes with chattel slavery. When I ask what she has to say to people who might be offended by her comparing herself to slaves, Dolezal is indignant almost to exasperation…

“I’m not comparing the struggles, okay? Because I never said that my life was the same. I never said that it was the equivalent of slavery, of chattel slavery. I did work and bought all my own clothes and shoes since I was 9 years old. That’s not a typical American childhood life,” she says. “I worked very hard, but I didn’t resonate with white women who were born with a silver spoon. I didn’t find a sentence of connection in those stories, or connection with the story of the princess who was looking for a knight in shining armor.”

I am beginning to wonder if it isn’t blackness that Dolezal doesn’t understand, but whiteness.

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A ‘Constellation of Meaning’: The Rumpus Interviews George Saunders

Last week, Maria Bustillos released a blockbuster Humanities Kit in which you can experience George Saunders teaching Anton Chekhov for yourself.

In Kate Harloe’s interview at The Rumpus, George Saunders reflects on the creative process for his new novel, Lincoln In The Bardo, bold compassion as the right course of resistance under a Trump presidency, and how his interviews, notes, and scenes coalesce into the “constellation of meaning” that inform his nonfiction work.

Rumpus: There are so many characters in this story. Did these characters flow out of you during the writing process or were they more of a conscious creation? Did you think, “I need a character that represents this or experiences this kind of suffering?”

Saunders: No, it was definitely the first thing. My general approach to writing fiction is that you try to have as few conceptual notions as possible and you just respond to the energy that the story is making rather than having a big over plan. I think if you have a big over plan, the danger is that you might just take your plan and then you bore everybody. I always joke that it’s like going on a date with index cards. You know, at 7:30 p.m. I should ask about her mother. You keep all the control to yourself but you are kind of insulting to the other person.

Rumpus: I don’t want to leave the topic of your book, but I love what you said about starting a piece with as few conceptual ideas as possible. Do you approach nonfiction the same way? For the New Yorker story you wrote about Trump, for example, did you begin with a similar kind of open-mindedness?

Saunders: It’s a different form of that. With nonfiction, I go in trying to be really honest about what my preconceptions are. In the Trump piece, I knew I didn’t like Trump and I confessed that to myself and also to my interviewees. I’d always say, “I’m a liberal and I’m left of Gandhi and I don’t like Trump and this article is me trying to understand why you do.”

My theory for nonfiction is that nobody can be free of some kind of conceptions about whatever story they’re writing. But if you can find a way to build those into the story, then the story becomes a process of deconstructing and heightening and sometimes changing those notions and that makes dramatic tension. The initial statement of your position, and then letting reality act on you to change it, is pretty good storytelling.

All I really know in nonfiction is that when I come home, I’ve got all these notes and I’m trying to figure out what actually happened to me. I usually kind of know what happened, but as you work through the notes, you find that certain scenes write well and some don’t even though they should. Those make a constellation of meaning that weirdly ends up telling you what you just went through. It’s a slightly different process, but still there’s mystery because when you’re bearing down on the scenes, sometimes you find out they mean something different than what you thought.

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On Midlife, Failure, and Thwarted Ambition: Sarah Manguso and 300 Arguments

Anna Furman interviews Sarah Manguso about the process of writing her new book, 300 Arguments, her writing influences, failure and thwarted ambition, and how Sarah’s sleeping post-inauguration.

I wrote 300 Arguments when I was in a bit of a midlife funk. I was thinking about certain types of failure that just sort of collect at midlife. The idea of midlife is itself a sort of a cliché; it’s a very conventional mode of thinking about the human lifespan. It’s an assumption, to start, that everybody has the same life span. But there really is something to getting to a point in life where major decisions have been made—maybe they’re not permanent but they feel permanent. You choose a vocation and the thing that you do all day long. You choose your people, and if you have a family you’ve chosen the people to include in your family. What felt really sharp to me at the time that I was writing this is that there’s this experience of failure that seems fairly generally applicable to being in one’s midlife. All of a sudden there are these desires that felt obsolete to me that I thought would always feel necessary. There were thwarted ambitions. You sort of realize that failing is a skill of general utility.

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Pablo Neruda on the Intersection of Politics and Poetry

In 1970, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) sat down for an interview with The Paris Review just months before abandoning his campaign for president, running as the Chilean Communist Party candidate. American author Rita Guibert conducted the interview at Neruda’s home in Isla Negra, just south of Valparaiso:

Oh, there is no advice to give to young poets! They ought to make their own way; they will have to encounter the obstacles to their expression and they have to overcome them. What I would never advise them to do is to begin with political poetry. Political poetry is more profoundly emotional than any other—at least as much as love poetry—and cannot be forced because it then becomes vulgar and unacceptable. It is necessary first to pass through all other poetry in order to become a political poet. The political poet must also be prepared to accept the censure which is thrown at him—betraying poetry, or betraying literature. Then, too, political poetry has to arm itself with such content and substance and intellectual and emotional richness that it is able to scorn everything else. This is rarely achieved.

… My poetry has passed through the same stages as my life; from a solitary childhood and an adolescence cornered in distant, isolated countries, I set out to make myself a part of the great human multitude. My life matured, and that is all. It was in the style of the last century for poets to be tormented melancholiacs. But there can be poets who know life, who know its problems, and who survive by crossing through the currents. And who pass through sadness to plenitude.

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“Discourse Is a Battleground”

Discourse is a battleground, and we have to perceive it as such. It’s not simply a representation of what is happening; it’s a battleground. This is why it’s important to push for the revolutionary grassroots narrative that has been completely isolated, silenced, marginalized, and, for many, unthinkable. This is why, I think, we should highlight that struggle and make sure that people hear about it.

– In an in-depth interview in Jacobin, Yusaf Khalil talks with Syrian scholar Yasser Munif about the roots of the Syrian civil war, the role of on-the-ground activists, and the narrative disconnect between Syria and the West.

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Full Disclosure: A Reading List About Confessions

I’m entranced by the moment our secrets become our confessions. Over the past three years, I’ve confessed my fair share: Coming out as queer. Coming out as non-binary. Sharing crushes, deep-seated fears and ridiculous hopes with my friends, my partner and my boss. In these six stories, a drunk driver confesses via viral video; an ex-Catholic returns to confession; and a high-school cheater reveals her indiscretions. Elisa Albert writes about her training as a doula, and I respond with my own doubts. Finally, acclaimed essayist Leslie Jamison reviews two collections of deeply personal writing from Sarah Manguso, David Shields and Caleb Powell.

1. “‘I Killed a Man’: What Happens When a Homicide Confession Goes Viral.” (Joel Oliphant, BuzzFeed News, March 2014)

After a night of heavy drinking, Matthew Cordle killed Vincent Canzoni in a drunk-driving accident. Overcome with guilt and on the brink of suicide, Cordle made an earnest video through the organization because I said I would, confessing what he’d done. Alex Sheen, the creator of because I said I would, thought Cordle’s confession might get 100,000 views and provide some solace for Cordle. He underestimated a bit—2.6 million people watched Cordle’s video. His viral confession impacted the victim’s family, Cordle’s family and Cordle’s trial. Read more…

I Want to Know if Love is Real: Springsteen on His New Book, Born to Run

Springsteen may today be a man who splits his time between a horse farm in his native Monmouth County, a second home in New Jersey, and luxury properties in Florida and L.A., but Born to Run is an emphatic refutation of the notion that, as a songwriter, he can no longer connect to the troubled and downtrodden. Especially in its early chapters, the book demonstrates how honestly Springsteen has come by his material. Cars, girls, the Shore, the workingman’s struggles, broken dreams, disillusioned vets—it’s all right there in his upbringing.

“One of the points I’m making in the book is that, whoever you’ve been and wherever you’ve been, it never leaves you,” he said, expanding upon this thought with the most Springsteen-esque metaphor possible: “I always picture it as a car. All your selves are in it. And a new self can get in, but the old selves can’t ever get out. The important thing is, who’s got their hands on the wheel at any given moment?”

At Vanity Fair, David Kamp interviews Bruce Springsteen on his upbringing, depression, and the seeds of his upcoming book, Born to Run.

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How to Report on the Life of a 13-Year-Old

There must be few journalistic feats more difficult than getting inside the head of a teenager. But with “13, Right Now,” Washington Post staff writer Jessica Contrera joins the ranks of reporters who have skillfully chronicled the lives of children and teens, including Susan Orlean (read her classic Esquire piece, “The American Man, Age 10”) and more recently, Andrea Elliott, whose “Invisible Child” for the New York Times in 2013 documented the life of an 11-year-old homeless girl named Dasani.

Contrera’s story focuses on Katherine, 13, whose life has been upended by the death of her mother, and whose world seems to increasingly exist inside her phone—through apps like Instagram and Snapchat. (As an #old myself, seeing Katherine’s life revolve around her social networks is shocking only in the way it mirrors the screen addiction of the American grown-up. It practically begs for the return of the “I learned it by watching you” meme.)

I spoke to Contrera about her story, which is one in an ongoing series (“The Screen Age”) that the Post will publish throughout the summer. Read more…

An Exegesis on Spanking Fetishists

Jessica Gross | Longreads | April 2016 | 23 minutes (5,803 words)

 

In 2012, Jillian Keenan came out as a spanking fetishist in a “Modern Love” essay for The New York Times. It marked the beginning of not only her involvement in the spanking community, but her freelance career as well. Since then, Keenan has written a series of controversial polemics—a case for legalizing polyamory, an argument that spanking is a sex act—as well as reported from countries across the globe.

In her new memoir, Sex With Shakespeare, Keenan examines her own relationships with both spanking and love through the lens of her longstanding obsession with Shakespeare. His characters, who appear in dialogue with Keenan, have as forceful a presence as the people in her life. I visited Keenan at her home in New York City, where we spoke about the difference between fetish and kink, her view of her fetish as innate, and her firm belief that spanking children is an act of sexual abuse.

This book struck me as such an empathetic text. I feel like sometimes, in our current cultural climate, there’s a lot of anger at and dismissal of anyone who’s ignorant about a topic, and I really appreciated that you treated the reader who didn’t know anything about fetishes with a lot of respect. Was that something you thought about as you were writing it? Or is that just how you feel, and it came out naturally as you were writing?

It’s not something I thought of consciously, but I’m thrilled to hear that’s what came across. I was conscious of the fact that, in my opinion, there’s nothing unique about the experience of feeling isolated. Whereas maybe most people don’t feel ashamed or isolated because they think about spanking all the time, I think that probably everyone has something in their lives—whether in their sex lives or in another part of their lives—that they feel insecure about or ashamed of or fearful about.

I didn’t want to act as if the experience of feeling lonely and ashamed is something that I needed to explain to people. I think that everyone already knows what that feels like. I was just trying to tell a story about the specifics of why I felt that way, and how I worked through it to the extent that I did. Read more…

You Can Do Anything if You Just Do it Slowly: An Interview with Lauren Groff

Cody Delistraty | Longreads | March 2016 | 12 minutes (3,332 words)

 

2015 was the year of Groff.

President Obama called her novel Fates and Furies his favorite of the year. The New York Times named it a bestseller. Amazon.com bestowed its top annual pick upon it. Seth Meyers and Charlie Rose even sat down for interviews with her.

But before all that, Lauren Groff wrote in the shadows.

After graduating from Amherst, when she thought she wanted to be a poet, Lauren worked at a bar in Philadelphia. Mixing cocktails at night and writing fiction during the day struck her as romantic. But on her first day of work, there was a double homicide at the bar. Her second day was September 11th, 2001. (“Seriously?” I say. “Seriously,” she says.)

At Amherst, Lauren was a rower. “There was this beautiful backlit fog rising off the river, and the banks were just pearly and beautiful, and it felt almost impossible to get our bodies moving in the cold,” she told The Amherst Student three years ago. “And Bill (Stekl, her coach) from his boat into his microphone shouts, ‘You can do anything — just do it slowly enough!’ And it’s almost been my motto in life. You can do anything. You just do it slowly enough.”

In 2008, after getting married, earning an MFA, turning thirty, and writing three unpublished novels, she saw her first glimmer of success: her debut novel, The Monsters of Templeton. In the years following she worked slowly. She wrote short stories and published another novel, Arcadia.

But it’s her latest novel, Fates and Furies, that brought fame.

A meditation on marriage and the impossibility of ever truly knowing someone, Fates and Furies struck a cultural nerve. Robin Black in The New York Times Sunday Book Review called it “a novel of extraordinary and genuine complexity,” and its strikingly inventive plot and evocative prose put it in rarefied company for contemporary fiction.

Yet Lauren won’t revel in her success. She has three new projects she’s working on, not to mention the two sons she’s raising with her husband, Clay, in Gainesville, Florida, where she lives. Fates and Furies has turned her into a modern literary icon, but she maintains the slow and steady pace that brought her success in the first place.

I spoke with Lauren about everything from artistic narcissism to Véra Nabokov to critic James Wood, as well as her winding road to success, the pressures of newfound literary fame, and what it feels like to have the President of the United States love your book.

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