There’s no way to talk about author Anna North’s latest novel, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, without centering the conversation around its title character. Told throughout the viewpoints of the people in Sophie’s life (who often become the main characters in the films the young director Sophie creates), the woman’s life is revealed piece by piece, from insight into her bullied childhood as witnessed by her brother, to early success as a filmmaker as seen by her lover Allison, to frustrations and struggles with relationships as disclosed to us by her husband. An awkward yet elegant and oddly alluring woman, Sophie’s relationship with art, and her much heavier flawed relationships with those around her, make for a melancholic tale of the search for perfection and the costs it may take to get there. Continue reading
Tag Archives: interviews
Laurie Foos’ latest novel, The Blue Girl (Coffee House Press), is a story centered around secrets, most notably, that of the Blue Girl herself. A mysterious child living near the waters of a small lake town, the Blue Girl—whose skin is truly a cerulean shade for reasons unknown to both readers and the novel’s other characters—is a fascination for the teens of the town and a confidant for their mothers. Told from the perspective of several of these mothers and daughters, the stories of the Blue Girl and the women themselves, of all their secrets and tragedies, are slowly revealed throughout the semi-magical narrative.
I got the chance to ask Foos more about this Blue Girl, the power of secrets, and the fears she has about her own daughter entering her teenage years:
Kati Heng: Probably the question everyone asks yet you don’t want to answer—do you have a reason in your mind for what caused the Blue Girl to turn blue? Continue reading
The stories in On the Way, the new collection from Chicago author Cyn Vargas, come from a place of pain. Broken marriages, broken homes, lost mothers and distant fathers swirl in and out of the stories, told through a variety of narrators (though most often, those narrators are girls between the ages of nine and thirteen). Throughout the pain and failed relationships, Vargas creates a picture of something deeper than love: a loyalty, a responsibility, and a connection that outlasts the fun times.
I talked to Vargas about the stigmas of writing fiction close to your own story, the draw of a pre-teen perspective, and how often, love isn’t everything.
Kati Heng: I’m curious about your connection to Guatemala. You mention it in a number of stories, set some there. Have you been? Do you have family there?
Halle Butler’s Jillian’s the lucky thrill of a story, a first novel bursting out of its publishing gates with some of the funniest, grittiest and most devourable prose you’ll find all 2015. The story of Megan, a depressed and anxious 20-something slacker working at a dead-end job at a gastrointestinal doctor’s office, and her chatty coworker Jillian who’s about to descend on a financial meltdown after adopting a new dog, the novel revolves around attitudes—from the depths of Megan’s sarcastic remarks to Jillian’s “The Secret”-inspired too-wishful thinking. Continue reading
The following is an interview between Amy Berkowitz and me for her new book, Tender Points (Timeless Infinite Light), to be published this month. A narrative fractured by trauma and named after the diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia, this book-length lyric essay explores sexual violence, gendered illness, chronic pain, and patriarchy through the lenses of lived experience and pop culture.
My body is washing dishes and it’s in pain. My body is on hold with California Blue Cross Blue Shield and it’s in pain. My body is dancing and it’s in pain. My body is Skyping Beth and it’s in pain. My body is taking a shower and it’s in pain. My body is riding BART and it’s in pain. My body is politely saying no and it’s in pain. My body is reading a book and it’s in pain. My body is at work and it’s in pain. My body is writing this and it’s in pain. My body is walking to meet you and it’s in pain. (127)
The Rad American Women Behind Rad American Women: An Interview With Kate Schatz & Miriam Klein Stahl
Rad American Women A–Z, which was just released from City Lights/Sister Spit, doesn’t pretend to be an exhaustive list of important American women. But to imagine the 25 women selected by author Kate Schatz and illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl as a representative sample is to imagine a world in which radicalism is somehow the norm, a world in which living as a woman in America might itself be a radical act. From Angela Davis to Zora Neale Hurston, from Dolores Huerta to Kate Bornstein to Maya Lin to Patti Smith to to Temple Grandin to Wilma Mankiller, the book profiles women who came from very different backgrounds and worked in very different fields, but who were all undeniably radical: in their politics, their aesthetics, their style, in the ways in which their work continues to shape and challenge our own lives. Very few, if any, of them are familiar from the Famous American Women books of my childhood. In one of the most moving sections of the book, Schatz and Klein Stahl devote the letter X to The Women Whose Names We Don’t Know, gesturing not only toward public figures who could eventually show up in middle-school social-studies curricula–“the women we haven’t learned about yet”–but toward the ordinary women “whose stories we will never read.”
I got to talk to Schatz and Klein Stahl over email about their collaboration, their own daughters, and about the politics of basically every concept in the title: radicalism, America, nationalism, women, feminism, and the alphabet! Continue reading
One of the first lessons I learned in my writing classes was that writing about writing is not engaging to anyone except the author. Yet, when you find a piece about writing that’s not vain, pompous, masturbatory, but actually meaningful, actually open and honest and important, it’s hard not to be impressed.
In Sarah Manguso’s extended essay, Ongoingness:The End of a Diary, the author writes a meditation on the diary she has kept for 25 years, all without including a single quote. The result is a stunning look back on the writings she kept for years, the notes she took furiously in an attempt to mark down her days, to keep them real in some place beside her mind.
Kati Heng: With a diary that’s almost 1,000,000 words long, you seem like the person to go to for diary-keeping advice! Can you give us any tips?
Sarah Manguso: If the goal is to write a lot, I’m the wrong person to ask—a million words in 25 years isn’t much. It’s about a hundred words a day.
KH: Your book is called Ongoingness: The End of a Diary. Why did you decide to call it “The End?” Continue reading
Viv Albertine is most recognized for her 70s group The Slits—an all-woman rock band borne from England’s punk scene that blends elements of revolutionary sounds, shock, fashion, and feminism. Albertine’s scope, however, goes beyond just music. Her versatility as an artist encompasses the world of paint, sculpture, film, and fashion. She is a great deal more than just a woman who once rolled alongside groups like the Sex Pistols and The Clash, hitting the bars and streets with fellas like Sid Vicious and Mick Jones and chicks like Siouxsie Sioux and Chrissie Hynde. She balls up her life’s yarn in her standout memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.
Clothes… Music… Boys… doesn’t simply serve as a vehicle for nostalgia: In addition to covering Albertine’s hilarious, moving, and painful memories of growing up in England during the years following World War II, the memoir examines the stifled culture of the era that she and her peers in the punk movement revolted against. It uniquely illustrates her coming into childhood, girlhood, womanhood and, most importantly, personhood—the stage where she learns to get in touch with herself fearlessly. The book likewise catalogs the fashion trends that Albertine witnessed and participated in, especially at “the Shop”—SEX—the iconic London boutique established by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood—where Albertine picked up a pair of boots (upon Westwood’s insistence) that she proudly sports to this day.
Apart from documenting the cultural and social atmosphere of these times, Albertine’s book is extremely personal. Her narration strikes a balance of confidence and vulnerability, and the resulting voice is emboldening. Dual spirits reside in her book: one that is pensive and anxious, and the other ruthlessly bold and grounded—a dichotomy that leaves the reader feeling empowered, understood, and granted permission to trust her own instincts. Despite Albertine’s naysayers (the friend that begs her to please stop playing the guitar because she can’t bear the sounds; the OBGYN who tells her she’ll never conceive; the medical world that tells her she’ll die of cancer; the husband who says she’ll never be an artist or a soloist), her willpower does not leave room for compromise. She turns the volume up on her own inner voice. Continue reading
What does it mean to be a grown-up? I’m 32, and even though part of me still feels like a teenager, I’m slowly accepting the badge of “adult” and trying to wear it proudly. Whenever I feel like I don’t know how to be a grown-up—scared that it might mean trading in my sparkly nail polish, Baby-sitters Club obsession, and love of staying up all night writing—I look for guidance to the trailblazing feminist writers and artists that inspire me. Near the top of that list is Michelle Tea. Ever since I learned about Tea’s work in college, I’ve been drawn to her always-honest, often-hilarious, and usually heartbreaking memoirs, fiction and poetry that capture exactly what it’s like to be a working-class teen girl on acid in the suburbs, or a twenty-something queer punk navigating 90s San Francisco, infused with so much energy and intelligence and humor that it’s downright infectious to read. Michelle started the legendary all-women performance group Sister Spit in the 90s (and later the publishing imprint by the same name), built the SF-based literary organization/reading series RADAR Productions from the ground up, blogged about trying to get pregnant (and then about becoming a mother!) in her 40s, and founded a totally rad mothering magazine. She’s edited several fantastic anthologies, wrote a YA fantasy series, and so much more. Tea’s new memoir How to Grow Up details her beautifully unconventional path to where she is today—offering advice on jobs (“jobs are for quitting”), relationships, money (“I imagined the spirit of money as a tenderhearted fairy who longed to share herself with everyone”), battling addiction, and more. It may just be the guide to embracing a happy, healthy, uniquely awesome feminist adulthood that you, and I, need. Continue reading
Not even five years ago, I went through a compulsive addiction to taking up less space. I wanted to inhabit less of the world, to see my bones show through the skin and be pared down to my skeletal size, maybe less. My eating disorder had so much less to do with eating than with a desire to be less. It wasn’t about vanity, even. On some level I knew I looked terrible all angled, washed out, and cold. Anorexia is supposed to be such a common disease, yet, deep in the throes, I never found a book that understood me and my disease, that didn’t paint me as a cheerleader or the desperate Queen Bee of high school. Nobody saw me as more than a cliché.
Enter Sarah Gerard’s parse new novel, Binary Star. The tale of addiction as told through two lovers, an unnamed girl struggling with an eating disorder and her boyfriend, an alcoholic, the story traces our inner desire for perfection and the methods we use to numb ourselves upon realizing we may never make it. Binary Star is the first thing I’ve ever read that understands eating disorders, I imagine less than coincidentally because Gerard herself has found herself in the depths of the disease. For the first time in my life, I saw on paper a character who wanted to inhabit less physical space, to have her clothes orbit around her frame, in the same terms I thought were entirely unique to my own disordered line of logic. I read the whole book in a couple hours, unable to steady myself until I knew how it would end. Continue reading