Interview with Lidia Yuknavitch

One of my Favorite Living Writers

Amercian writer Lidia Yuknavitch in Paris, France on Wednesday, September 4, 2013. Photo: Andrew Kovalev (ckovalev.com) for Les Editions Denoёl

Amercian writer Lidia Yuknavitch in Paris, France on Wednesday, September 4, 2013. Photo: Andrew Kovalev (ckovalev.com) for Les Editions Denoёl


I had the great pleasure of interviewing Lidia Yuknavitch about her new book, The Small Backs of Children, for The Rumpus. Lidia’s memoir, The Chronology of Water, was my favorite book of the decade. What an honor to converse with its visionary author. Read the interview here.

I Love My Job
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For the past three summers I have taught Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Emerson College. I have been extremely lucky, during my fifteen years at Emerson, to teach courses I love – creative writing, Exoticism in Literature and Art, The Literature of Photography – and to talk shop with some very fine minds. (A sampling of fine minds in the photo above.) Somehow this class always feels like the easiest to teach. Because it’s basically about our world and learning how to articulate what is happening in it. The official demise of DOMA…the UVa/Rolling Stone debacle…the new Mad Max movie…a feminist reading of what is playing on the radio. A large part of the course is reacting to what appears in our newsfeeds, and giving it language.

For three years now I have been formulating a character who becomes more and more vivid when I am teaching this class. At a certain point I realized it was inescapable that my next book, a novel, will have a male protagonist. As someone deeply committed to the female and non-dominant perspective, this has been an interesting challenge. But spending six intense weeks a year talking about the gender binary, the fine points and varieties of privilege, and the different ways we move through the world based on what the world thinks of us has given some real flesh to this character.

Best case scenario, teaching college is walking into a room of smart people and talking about things that matter. Am I lucky.

The Lambda Literary Awards

The Lambda Literary Awards Ceremony
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Kate Clinton killed it. Susie Bright presented, braless in a beige dress, her date in see-through plastic. Liz Smith killed it, presenting an award to John Waters, who killed it. I sat three seats down from Allison Bechdel but was too timid to introduce myself. I finally met Lucy Bledsoe, one of the key readers for University of Wisconsin Press responsible for seeing The Blind Masseuse into print. I slept over Michael Carroll and Ed White’s apartment. I left behind my gift bag, which was apparently stuffed with books by young trans authors. I ate a lot of chocolate. I experienced the familiar anxiety of New York literati parties. I missed New York. Unaccompanied Minors didn’t win a Lammy. But that was more than okay. It was an honor to be a finalist.
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NewPages Review of Unaccompanied Minors

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This reviewer at NewPages seemed to like all the stories in Unaccompanied Minors save “Shelter,” though she did say “Shelter” was “Reminiscent of Dorothy Allison’s project to represent the lives of young poor women from the South, [but] less angry.” I’ll take that! Also, my characters are “misfits and miscreants.” You can read it here.

Literary Pride

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Join us during Pride week at an event sponsored by the Boston Literary District:

Literary Pride: LGBT Writers Talk About Their Work
June 11, 2015 | 6:30 pm – 7:45 pm | Free

Five celebrated writers will participate in a Literary Pride Panel as part of Boston’s Pride Week Activities, courtesy of a collaboration between the Lit District and Hostelling International. These writers’ books have won awards ranging from the New American Fiction Prize to “one of the 10 best indie YA novels of 2015” and are also being turned into major motion feature films starring celebrated actors. The panel, moderated by Neil Miller (In Search of Gay America, Banned in Boston), will feature Boston Globe television critic Matthew Gilbert (Off the Leash: A Year at the Dog Park); Alden Jones (Unaccompanied Minors); Jennie Wood (Flutter and A Boy Like Me); Annie Weatherwax (All We Had); and Judah Leblang (Finding My Place: One Man’s Journey from Cleveland to Boston and Beyond).

IPPY Silver Medal for Unaccompanied Minors

Unaccompanied Minors wins an IPPY
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Well I am just tickled that Unaccompanied Minors has won the silver medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards in the category of short fiction.

Stay tuned for the next edition of the paperback, with this pretty silver seal on it.

Publishing Triangle Awards

I Didn’t Win the Edmund White Award

But I got to sit next to Edmund White at the Publishing Triangle Awards Ceremony.
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And that was the best. What an honor to be a finalist for an award named after one of my most important teachers. Ed taught the Advanced Fiction class I took at Brown as a sophomore. He has since been a model for me, not just as a writer, but as a literary citizen, an activist through fiction.

The night before the ceremony, I read along with eight other Publishing Triangle Awards finalists read from their work at the Bureau of General Studies – Queer Division. IMG_4429Surrounded by photographs from a project about the Meatpacking District before gentrification. Surrounded by provocative books. And friends. IMG_4427Kate, 37 weeks pregnant, actually got to accompany me on one of my New York trips. It was an all around special two days.

See you again, New York, for the Lamdba Literary Awards on June 1!

The Sweetest Review

This is the sweetest review I’ve ever gotten. Love you back, Jane Tompkins.
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THE BLIND MASSEUSE BY ALDEN JONES
Reviewed by Jane Tompkins

The other night I was lying in bed unable to sleep. I began thinking about the book I’d been reading and realized I wanted to get up and read it some more. It was The Blind Masseuse, by Alden Jones, a young woman who loves to travel, loves the adventure of being in foreign places and writes about her experience with insight and panache. She’s not just a person who recorded what she did on the road and managed to get it published. Her book was a finalist for the 2013 PEN award in non-fiction. Deservedly so.

Over a period of several years, Jones travelled to Costa Rica, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Cambodia, Burma, Italy and Egypt. Mostly, she led student groups or taught English while she was abroad. What a great life that would have been, I thought: to take students to far-off places, to live and teach in some of them, returning home from time to time, only to set off again for foreign parts. What’s most appealing about the book is not so much the people and places the author encounters as the way in which she uses her experience as a springboard for getting to know herself. As a result, we get to know her, too.

When Jones is in Cambodia and Burma, she takes a lot of pictures with her new Nikon D200. She’s possessed by a desire to use it, even if she uses it in the wrong way. She shoots through the window of the tour bus and later exhibits the fuzzy results. She chases three naked Burmese boys who don’t want their picture taken and takes it anyway. She photographs young female dancers in costume as they rest between performances; they see her taking their picture and resent the intrusion. Watching herself doing these things, Jones doesn’t approve but she doesn’t beat up on herself, either. She simply notes what happened and then somehow manages to be both critical and generous toward herself at the same time. I admire her for this. As an inveterate self-critic I envy her buoyancy and spiritedness in the face of her own shortcomings. She treats herself good-naturedly. It tells me she’s a safe person to be around.

And that’s the best part of this book: the author is game and fun to be with. The focus is not on the history of the country she’s in, its politics or architecture—though these can and do enter in. It’s her experience we get, which is generally interesting and lively—her visit to a zoo created and then neglected by the Sandinistas in Leon, Nicaragua, where the alligators have moss growing inside their mouths; being met at the airport in Cuba by her friend Darwin who’s holding two beers–he still can’t leave the country and has started drinking again. There are no detailed portraits of landscape or interiors, but enough description to put you right there with her wherever she happens to be–in the courtyard in Leon drinking coffee with her Spanish teacher who loved revolutionary poetry; enjoying white wine and TV in her room in the San Jose Marriott after sleeping on the floor of a shack with twelve people for a month. In those moments, I know what it felt like to be her. Just thinking about her book as I lay there in the dark made me want to get up and write. She energized me. Her book had an aura that I wanted to live and move in for as long as possible. When such books end, I go through something like withdrawal. Jones had been such an excellent companion, her writing full of verve, her self-observation keen and her attitude mellow; I’d become addicted to her company.

I got up and re-read first one chapter, then another and another, ostensibly to see if I could decipher the title’s meaning and get straight the author’s relationship with her boyfriend Andres (it was not exactly what she’d thought). But the real reason was that I wanted to spend more time hanging out with Alden. On the third reading of the chapter on her visit to a blind masseur I did figure out the title. The answer is in the last paragraph of that chapter. It’s about blindness—not physical blindness, but our reluctance to give up clinging to ideas we absolutely KNOW are right, no matter what the evidence. I leave it to you to find out the rest. Curled up on your sofa when the thermometer’s in the 20s and it’s dark at five o’clock, you’ll be happy you did.~

AWP

AWP Minneapolis
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If you are one of the 10,000 writer-types heading to Minneapolis this week for the Associated Writing Programs Conference, come find me at one of these events:

PARTY/READING: Thursday night, 7:00, hosted by New American Press, at The Local, two blocks from the hotel. I’ll be reading from Unaccompanied Minors.

PANEL: Friday morning at 9: “Eye on the (Book) Prize.”

BOOK SIGNING: Friday morning at 11. I’ll be signing copies of Unaccompanied Minors at the New American Press booth.

Get the details here.

Heart of Darkness

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Newtonville Books hosted Celebrity Bookclub this week, where I led a discussion on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The crowd was divided. Aside from the conversation, the best part for me was getting to be on the shelf next to this book, if only briefly. It’s one of the books I go back to again and again and again and again.