Sunday, March 31, 2013

VIDA's Count -- Women and Ambition: A Discussion in Here, not out There.

When I look at VIDA's count -- the now famous breakdown of publication data of males versus females in various magazines -- I'm always immediately outraged. I start -- in my own head -- with a discussion about what these magazines are doing wrong, how bad it is for our culture, how damning it is to women writers. My mind naturally starts tearing into Open Letters and coming up with ideas for Tweet-ins... I think of all these ways to demand these publications realize their own sexist lens and work toward change.

But, eventually, things shift. And I stop thinking about the angry conversations that one establishment -- with a new brand of feminism -- is engaged in with another establishment that can't ever seem to get out of its own way.

Instead, I think of other conversations -- quiet, one-on-one conversations that happen late at night at kitchen tables across America and beyond. Conversations where a couple puts their heads together and tries to come up with ways to survive. These couples have to make money. They might have small children sleeping in nearby rooms amid the cloudy fog of humidifiers. They might have student loan debts and rising rent prices. They might be struggling with childcare and looming tuitions. They're worried. (This piece will continue for a while to be about women who are coupled up -- because they come from my own narrow personal perspective; but where I eventually land, an argument that begins within the woman writer herself, might be of some use more broadly? I don't know...)

Let's now say that the woman (or one of these two women, depending on the couple) is a writer. What every writer needs is time. This woman writer needs to be given time, and time costs money -- especially if the one taking the time is causing an absence that requires childcare. It feels selfish suddenly to need time to write.


But let's shift this a little. Let's say that the man is the writer here (or one of the men, depending on the couple). And this man needs time to write and maybe that time costs money. Does it feel selfish to need time to write for this man? Or does it seem like a wise investment that will eventually materialize into a publication in Harper's or into a reviewing gig for The Atlantic or a book that will be well-reviewed and make Publishers Weekly's Best Books of the Year list.

Well... Let's look at the data. A man actually, statistically -- based on VIDA's count -- has a better argument for deserving time to write. Statistically speaking, he's more likely to get published by big venues, be chosen as a critical voice for reviewing, and to be given review space for his book, once published. That is the data.

What helps women in these conversations? Other women writers one step ahead of them, being successful. Fact is, we have some incredibly financially successful women writers -- no one's beating Rowling anytime soon -- but still when it comes to those kitchen table arguments, these publications  and successes matter.

If this young woman writer lands a piece in The Paris Review, she and her partner have to realize -- damn, she's on her way! If those coveted spots go to men again and again, the women at those kitchen tables struggle...

And, listen, it's often not about the partner's urging and encouragement. That vindication -- those small early publications in literary magazines, the small grants and fellowships and awards -- these things matter to the writer herself. The woman writer's fear of selfishness starts within her -- or so speak my experiences. Do I deserve this time to write? Am I worthy? Is this a wise investment for our family? She comes to that kitchen table with more self-doubt than her male literary peers-- or so I've seen.

Op-ed editors have expressed this observation -- that when rejected with a kind note, a male writer will keep submitting and a female writer will take even the kind rejection as a final word and aren't heard from again.[Check out The Oped Project.] And when asked about how they achieved success, women are more likely to say that they got lucky or had excellent help, mentoring -- they cast the light elsewhere. Even when we earn it, we feel like we don't earn it. And too often, women quit before they really get started. [See Sheryl Sandberg's TED Talk.]

So what I really end up thinking about when I look at the VIDA Count is the nature of female ambition, which is an insanely charged topic. (I purposefully posted this piece on my own blog because I wanted to be clear that I'm writing, again, personally here.)

Every once in a while, I'll blank on a word. Sometimes the blanking on a particular word lasts for years. It's so persistent that I actually try to think of the word, recognize that it's THAT damn word and lock into a mnemonic device to call it up. In my late twenties, that word was ambitious.I literally could not recall that word. I was terrified of my own ambition. I was terrified of letting it remain dormant -- an engine churning with nowhere to go -- and I was afraid to actually use it, which seemed akin to selfishness. After I published my first book, I used my children to insulate myself from my own ambition. I could always say that I wasn't being ambitious for my own ambition's sake because I was really just trying to put food on the table for my children.

I still do this. It protects me from my own feelings of not really being worthy of time to write. Next year, my twentieth book will be published, and I am, in fact, the sole breadwinner for my family of six people, and I still worry about whether or not my writing is worthy of time.

Though I'm keenly invested in telling those around me how thankful I am for their support, I've also tried to stop when I catch myself saying I'm lucky. And I work hard to just say thank you when someone compliments my work instead of trying to divert attention. When I get a kind rejection, I've trained myself to go back for more. And because I've got a partner who is my greatest champion, I no longer have to gear up for kitchen table debates about writing time. It's my job and responsibility to write. No luxury feel to it now.

And yet, so often I still feel like that twenty-something-year-old with two babies and maybe a third on the way, and we're struggling to make ends meet... and I still sometimes (oftentimes) have to dig deep to believe in this work I do. It's my own battle. And when I hear about women being overlooked, it's hard. And when I hear about another woman who's broken through, who's garnering praise, and well-deserved admiration and readers, it's a jolt. It matters.

There's some larger discussion that my subconscious is always aware of -- gazing down those lists of prizewinners and bestsellers. Are women in the mix? Do our stories matter? Do our voices count? Even if VIDA stopped counting, the count goes on in my head -- it's been going on for a long time ... My hope for the next generation is that the counting can stop because women are in the mix. Women's stories do matter, and our voices count.


[Interested in supporting the artist behind what you've just read, click here for Julianna Baggott's latest novel.]

Thursday, March 28, 2013

As If Two Women Raising a Child is New? No Data?

Men die in battle and sometimes men simply die. Some of those men leave behind families. Especially after a world war -- or two -- men are in shortage. It was not unusual in our own recent history to have households run by a single woman or a pair of women or a multi-generational team of women.  This is the history that we seem to be delusional about as if all households in the 1950s were traditional -- run by one man and one woman.

There's no information on women raising children without a man in the house? Who are you people? And how did you escape history?


My father and his two sisters were raised by their mother, a widow, and their aunt, who never married. Was this radical? Was this a huge sensation in their neighborhood? No. Some would say, yes, but they were sisters, not two women in love. I disagree. They were two women who made a decision -- out of love for family, for each other, for these three kids -- to make a family, a solid one. After the kids left the house, they continued to live together, to take care of each other.

AS FOR DATE ... how did the children fare? One became a lawyer and engineer. One became a teacher with a masters degree. One became a journalist. They all went on to have families of their own.One of them went on to have me.

The sad truth is that their father drank too much. By all accounts, he was a loving and charming man -- a great dancer, a champion speed-walker, a man who had perfected the pratfall. He was deeply loved and missed. But his relationship with my grandmother was complex, and, before he died -- the result of an Army Jeep accident -- they'd separated. There's a good chance that my grandmother would have raised her children as she did even if he'd lived. This, too, isn't ground-breaking. (My great grandmother was married five times in an era when it took five years to get a divorce.)

Many have pointed out that these Supreme Court arguments against same-sex marriage are the same used when trying to decide whether or not to allow interracial marriage. In one of the presidential debates between Romney and Obama, Romney made outlandish claims about single mothers -- blaming them for rampant gun violence. Remember that one?

And he was sharing the stage with the president of the United States, a biracial man raised by a single mother. He seemed completely unaware of this fact because we, as a nation, enjoy delusions. They keep us feeling like we know how the world works, how love works, how family works, how the human spirit works.

The good news is that we have no idea. So why keep legislating delusions and love and family and the human spirit. My father's childhood was good and sweet and, to be honest, pretty dull.

And further, since when does the fact that it hasn't been done before grounds that it shouldn't be done now?

Let men and women, committed by love to family, raise children. THOSE are the best homes.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

1/2 Dozen with Sally Ball

My God. Sally Ball has the most wondrous and industrious and fantastically rich rummaging, leaping mind. If you read no other examination on love this year, read her Advice to Someone Who's Fallen in Love with a Writer below. If this Q and A doesn't drive you to her poems, you've got a weird hard head, truly.



Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.

My kids would say I have to fess up to playing a lot of Scrabble (which as far as I can tell is Facebook’s real raison d’être). I also keep trying to get my husband to start House of Cards, which I watched intensely and with some trepidation/dismay. Were those producers just as crassly manipulative as Frank Underwood? Is it ethical to use AA in the plot the way they did? I have about thirty-seven conversations I want to have about this show, which makes me respectful of it, even if also mad at it.

Also I'm reading a hilarious biography of the Dadaist poet Elsa Von Freytag-Loringhoven ("Her tireless work as a protean sex machine reflected the kaleidoscopic landscape of the city: she was the consummate priapic traveler..."—!) in preparation for teaching her compelling and wild and funny and moving (impossible) poems.... her invocation of "Masterbrainorb" in a curvaceous concrete line, and her conviction: "I still care to live on."

What’s your advice to someone who’s fallen in love with a writer? 

Is your writer a protean sex machine?! Also, more so, are you willing to be written about? How well do you understand what "being written about" means, in a general way, and with your partner in particular? Have you guys talked about this? Really? There is this long and wonderful training we (used to?) receive, as students of literature, in which we learn not to conflate the "speaker" or character with the poet or the novelist. (Which is true! Art requires vision, not anecdote.) And in fiction, I think, the veils and transformations are presumed; we trust the imagination to be the crucial force. In poetry, readers are likely to presume autobiography anyway, and they are also unlikely to understand the way even directly engaged autobiographical material is estranged from us by the kind of attention we have to pay to thought and to language itself. To "suppress" a poem in order not to hurt someone risks a two-fold resentment (censorship, self-effacement). Vortex of horrors, this territory. I mean, how seriously can we take ourselves? Because also, to publish something that hurts, for whatever reason, someone you love—that's not to be brushed off with High Arguments about Art. And to be the quasher of a publication? Also a terrible position to find oneself floundering in.

Floundering, yes: are you both writers? I'm in an inter-genre marriage, myself. I think Mike (T.M. McNally!) and I both use what might be called "personal material" in similar ways, but in fact my poems probably seem much more "about" my marriage than Mike's fictions do. Which can be stressful. Much is tolerable from a position of strength. Who lives always in that position?

Falling in love with a writer: so romantic, and if you're a writer, too, this person really gets you, gets what you do, why you're alive, your ambition, your lostness. It's the sweetest thing. And then: writers are selfish, at least sometimes—mostly the world does not want us to do this work and we have to carve out enough space, we have to disappear into it, we have to blow off stuff the world actually wants us to do. My house gets messy and it lasts. I am not influential with the PTO. To live as a writer you have to say no, to insulate (and this may be true for long stretches of time). Living with an insulated person is hard, lonely. (Also sometimes: well, phew. Thank God!) 

So: do you relish a life of intensity that is partly, yes, the intensity of your beloved's keen mind, deep feeling, extraordinary sensibility, but that is also the intensity of absence, retreat, abdication? In my house, we both suffer from this. Many joys! Some difficult abdications.

What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer? 

I was so lucky to be loved, and not (often) criticized. My parents were a little mystified: where did this studious creature come from? Why isn't she more like us? But they were also almost always massively supportive, and engaged. We did a lot of yard work together, a lot of chores, probably good training for a writer: you start those things and you don't want to be doing them, and then something changes, you're having fun, you're proud of those giant leaf bags. I know you (Julianna) are skeptical about romanticizing inspiration: and I share that. I think inspiration is elusive and wonderful and real, but also it's only one way in, and you can't go very far with it if you don't have other capacities—to wait things out, to dive into the unknown or unexpected or unbidden. My parents worked hard at what they did (running a plumbing and heating supply company, being a homemaker), and family was the center. Work and family: my life looks a lot like theirs, finally. My sister is now clearly my best friend. What kind of child was I? I want to say "watchful" and that would be true. Also: bossy. Maybe those are the roots of staying alive as a writer: you have to see, absolutely, and you have to be a little bossy, a little demanding, to make real time for your work.

What’s your reading life like? Do you have any current favorites or sleepers that may have flown under our radar?

My reading has been all over the place lately: Cleopatra Mathis's Book of Dog, Lisa Robertson's R's Boat, Anne Carson’s Antigonick (What’s the matter you have your thunder look). Also, I've been reading lots of French symbolists, guys I mostly read in college, in French, and then decided this year to teach as precursors to American modernism, in English, and spent this semester immersed in translations by Ashbery and Eliot and Revell and Mary Ann Caws. These poets explain so much! They explain Eliot, and O'Hara, and Zapruder... "Love-anguish clutches your throat / You must never again be loved.../ Your life is a painting in a dark museum / Sometimes you examine it closely." That's Donald Revell's Apollinaire, which is almost as wonderful as his Jules LaForgue. Aux armes, citoyens! 

What other jobs have you had -- other than writing or teaching writing? Did one of these help shape you as a writer?

I came from a pretty comfortable background; my parents had a place at the Jersey shore (still standing! though many of the houses I've known well all my life are gone gone gone—). In the last summers of high school and the first summer of college, I worked as a waitress in a diner where the only other staff were the owners and their kids, a place that served a few tourists and summer homeowners but mostly—as the cheapest and earliest-opening restaurant on the barrier island—tradesmen, many of whom ate two meals a day with us six days a week. (August mornings, when it got cold and stayed dark, we'd all huddle over the griddle to keep warm.) Two things were true: A) I was really anonymous—no one knew anything about me or where I came from, and most people assumed I was ... not a girl of many privileges about to attend a prestigious liberal arts college in New England, and B) the worse off our customers were financially, the better they tipped. It was incredibly valuable as a writer to feel that kind of blankness: no one knows anything about me. Partly because it propels the imagination (I could say anything!), and partly because it sort of thrusts you into your interest in other people: it's hard to be self-absorbed when you don't have much of a self, and (more seriously) when you realize the presumptions behind people's questions don't matter, or that they are confiding in you not because of any context other than this moment—their filters are down, or different—boom: you can ask anything, you can just pay attention to them. It's thrilling. We can't help but have an inner life, I love poems of self-exploration and discovery, I'm not at all diminishing those pursuits. But they are one kind, and that anonymous and intimate other place is precious and instructive too. And the tipping: a lesson in generosity, empathy, surprise: writerly keystones, all.

If you teach the craft of writing, why do you do it -- other than cash?

Honestly, I think I do it to fight for reading, and to urge the cultivation of attention (to the work, to the world). We live in such numbed-out times, and even English departments don't seem to foreground literature as an Art anymore—we study culture, ephemera, video games, etc. English departments are rushing to denounce their identities as places where students read literature (musty and fusty!), and, whereas scholars used to be wary of writers teaching literature (no PhD! Glurg!), now they welcome it (or could care less) because so often it's no longer their turf. I think there's real value in some of the new directions English departments are taking (I do!); also, though, as “English” casts its net wider and wider, writers really are responsible for teaching lit in ways we didn't used to be.

So if I can be of any use to anyone, as a teacher—it's not in 'making writers.' (They make themselves.) But I can try to loosen the grip of this contemporary American and utterly pervasive rhetorical laziness which has settled over us (as in Kevin Prufer's "The Enormous Parachute"!), and I can also show people that there's more to be gleaned from reading a book than their initial gut feeling of I know what I like when I see it.... There are strategies at work! Tussles with our expectations, etc. My workshops are always roughly half workshop and half reading: books of poems, books of poetics. And there's useful humility implied in a workshop that isn't all about the voices in the room. Those voices depend on prior ones, and—oh, I do worry about sounding 'conservative' here, which is funny, because it's the other way around. The obsession with practicality that drives this rejection of the art of literature wants, I think, to stamp out the light of the mind. It's not interested in a creative, curious, critically intelligent citizenry, but a docile one. 

To write well, you have to shake off the fox dust, the mall, the received received received and pay attention. Teaching helps me do that; I hope my teaching helps others do it too.

What's your worst writerly habit? 

Maybe it's waiting for The Window: I just heard George Saunders talking about how if he has twenty minutes, he can make some progress on his fiction. This is a claim I'd otherwise be likely to dismiss, but listening to him, I remembered a lesson from both my beloved teacher Louise Glück and my novelist husband, who’ve said to me at different times that if you think the writer knows what he or she is doing, then you have to trust them. It’s on you: figure it out. I think Saunders knows what he's doing. So how can it be true: twenty minutes of real work? Maybe it's because he refuses to let everything else squeeze out the work; he has it so present, so much with him, every day, that it's easier to go in and out. I know there is value in bouts of time Away; I need to trust more that I can stay In. Away will eat your life, your mind. But when I let that be true, I am so much smaller, so much less happy. So I'm trying to give my work More Room, not just windows—har har—but rooms and rooms.

Sally Ball is the author of two books of poems, Wreck Me (Barrow Street, 2013) and Annus Mirabilis (Barrow Street, 2005). She is the associate director of Four Way Books and an assistant professor of English at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, Yale Review, and other journals, as well as online at The Awl, Narrative.com, and Slate.




Monday, March 25, 2013

1/2 Dozen with Bryan Furuness


For years, I've been waiting for Bryan Furuness to publish a damn book. I've been teaching his short story "Love and Mono" for so very long on both the undergrad and grad level -- a beautiful, hilarious, poignant story -- and now FINALLY ... at long last ... he's got a novel out in the world....

The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson


AND THIS, my friends, is an essay you've been waiting for even though you didn't know you were waiting at all....

Ecclesiastes for Writers: A Furunessay in Six Answers

Pep talk (or bootie-kicking) for the downhearted writer. Let fly.

A few years ago I went to a writers' conference in Indy. At that point, I'd published a handful of short stories and was several years deep into a novel, but didn't have much to show for that project—no end in sight, no agent, and certainly no contract. I felt low, lost, a never-would-be. Sitting in the middle of an auditorium, I looked at the people on the stage for a panel discussion, the Real Authors, lit by footlights, and I thought: God, what I wouldn't do to be up there instead of out here in the dark. What I wouldn't do to be one of them.
Photo Credit: Miriam Berkley 
After the panel discussion was over, the rest of the audience got up to leave, but I just sat there. I was tired, in every sense. And then something strange happened.

Tell us a tale from the publishing world – something, ANYthing about that process from your perspective.
           
The panelists climbed down from the stage and settled into the comfortable seats of the auditorium. I pretended to study my program. I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but the acoustics in there were incredible and—okay, I meant to eavesdrop. I'm glad I did, too, because what I heard changed the way I look at writing.  

One woman who had six novels to her credit talked about how she was setting aside a book she'd been working on for ten years. "It's just not going to work," she said. A guy with more than a couple serious prizes to his credit said that he had more books out of print than in print. Another guy, a prolific crime writer, told the others that his publisher had just canceled his contract. He said, "I don't know if I'll ever write another book."

This wasn't energetic bitching. They were just reporting the news. They sounded tired, too.  

If I were a different kind of person, a more reasonable person, perhaps, this might have been the last straw. I might have thrown my book bag in the river and gone into Amway sales. But that's not who I am.  

When I hear about other people's troubles, especially if they're somehow related to my own, it makes me feel less alone. When I found out that these writers—Real Writers! With Actual Books!—were eating a shit-ton of failure, I felt totally relieved. Oh, thank goodness, I thought. I'm not the only one.

How do you see your future as a writer?

That was a big turning point for me. That was the day I stopped thinking that publishing a book would turn my life into magical unicorn fun-time. I saw all the failure and rejection in front of me, but I knew that I could press on, just as these good people were pressing on.

And that was a comfort to me. It's comforting to know that all of us spend most of our time out of the bright footlights, and that I'm far from alone in the dark of the auditorium.

What is the future of publishing?

Allow me to comfort you with more bad news. Publishing is going to be what it is now, only more so. Next year will be declared The Worst Year for Publishing Ever, only to be worsted by the next year, which will look like salad days compared to the year after that. Some hacks will sell a qwazillion books, and some great writers will watch their shit get remaindered.

And so on. 

Publishing is eternally dying, never dead. The fact that the death of books is reported so often might be the best proof of its resiliency.

Publishing is Jason in Friday the 13th. Pretty much unkillable. But not exactly healthy. Plus harmful to anyone in machete-range. See: those Real Authors on the stage, or any other writer you know.   

Rejection. It’s part of the territory. How do you handle it? Is this the way you’ve always handled it?

That day at the writers' conference, I figured out that the writing life is a black sky of rejection, punctuated every few million light years by a tiny starpoint of success. In other words, the writing life is full of things that can make a body feel despair, so you better enjoy the daily work itself.

But here's the other thing I've figured out in the last few years of observing writers: as hard as it is for writers to handle rejection, it might be even harder for them to handle success.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross would have had a field day studying writers who have gotten a major acceptance. I've seen writers ping from denial (Okay, guys, who's punking me?) to overinflated expectations (I'm big time now, bitches!) to guilt (I'm a hack, I don't deserve this) to second-guessing (Of course this crappy magazine took my story. I knew I should have submitted it to the New Yorker.) and back around again, like a bad game of pinball.

Writers, please. When you come across the rare moment that can actually make you feel joy and hope, your job is TO LET YOURSELF FEEL GOOD. Take the joy. Don't qualify it, don't ameliorate it, don't yeah-but it. Take it. Don't let anyone take even a smidge of it away from you. Especially yourself. Do not rob yourself of joy.

The day I sold my novel, my wife and I sent the kids over to Grandma's, picked up some babyback from King Ribs and a bottle of Layer Cake, and had a rare night of glutting ourselves on TV. I know that's kind of a wussy celebration, but I don't care. I enjoyed the hell out of myself. The next day, after sleeping late and waking up just the tiniest bit hungover, I shuffled out to the mailbox where I found—no lie—a rejection slip from a magazine for a story I'd submitted over a year earlier.

Memento mori, said the universe. You enjoy your starpoint? Good. Now it's time to sail back into the darkness.

I tossed the rejection slip into the recycling, and checked the clock. I still had a couple of hours before the kids came home. I sat down at my desk and started to write.

Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.

#2: Enjoy the daily work.

#17: When you fail, remember that you're in good company. When you succeed, savor the joy.  

#47: Press on. 

Bryan Furuness is the author of The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson. His stories and essays have appeared in Ninth Letter, Southeast Review,  and Hobart, as well as New Stories from the Midwest and Best American Nonrequired Reading. He teaches at Butler University, where he is the Editor in Chief of the small press, Pressgang. 


Elizabeth Hughey
Sally Ball


1/2 Dozen with Elizabeth Hughey

Oh, the gems within this Q and A with poet Elizabeth Hughey! I love this one maybe most of all,
"Do not turn off your poetry brain after you’ve walked away from your desk. Whatever you are into, use the vocabulary from your work or your hobbies or your guilty pleasures. Nothing is too pedestrian or too trashy for your writing..." 
Enjoy!

Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.
Agnes Varda 
Harryette Mullen (everything)
Gertude Stein (always)

I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

It wasn’t a lightning bolt or anything, but I will say that the earlier editions of Emily Post’s Etiquette led me to start writing the poems in Guest Host. I already owned both the 1940 and 1955 editions, and then I found the first edition – from 1922 – online. Many of the poems in Guest Host live somehow in Post’s landscape. They borrow her imagery and language or just somehow explore human behavior. At that time, coincidentally, I heard a professor lecture on xenia, the Greek term for hospitality, in which “guest” and “host” are interchangeable. The title poem grew out of that lecture.

That said, I didn’t set out to write 40 poems about manners. The poems in Guest Host are only loosely tied together, and there are many “non-etiquette” threads in the book. However, I do think that you have to cultivate your obsessions. From Emily Post, I moved onto Dorothy Draper and Edith Wharton on the decorating of houses. I am a huge fan of Wharton. I love how she portrays New York society and that she doesn’t save her heroines from their prisons.

Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.

Do not think that any part of your life is unpoetic or can’t be put into a poem. Do not turn off your poetry brain after you’ve walked away from your desk. Whatever you are into, use the vocabulary from your work or your hobbies or your guilty pleasures. Nothing is too pedestrian or too trashy for your writing. Kevin Young writes with Judge Judy on in the background. I think that’s why Ashbery is so amazing. He lets it all into the poem. 

Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?

No. I have children at home with me most of the time, and I feel like I’m always missing out. My sons are young enough that they still love to be with me. So I’m sad to be away from them to write or work. At the same time, I sometimes feel like the literary world is speeding past me -- so much to read, so many conversations to be a part of! I try to strike a balance, though. I love being a parent. I love books.

What’s your reading life like? Do you have any current favorites or sleepers that may have flown under our radar? 

I stole Elias Canetti’sThe Human Province from my husband’s side of the bed. You can open it anywhere and find something good: “Some sentences release their poison only after years.” There are a lot of books like this that I keep nearby to open at any page and sort of get my head in a good space for writing – The Making of Americans, the collected Tennyson, lots of photography books. My husband and I both like to pile books around the house. Nearby, I’ve got a stack made up of Julie Choffel, Nicky Finney, Rubén Darío and a book about how to stop yelling at your children.

Margaret Wrinkle’s new novel, Wash, is incredible!

This is a vast question. Interpret it at will. What’s the future of publishing? 

There is so much amazing poetry available right now. I appreciate the small presses that are fueled mostly by an editor’s vision or love of a certain kind of voice or aesthetic. Really, I couldn’t be more impressed or energized by all that there is out there to read. However, I don’t know that the industry of poetry really works for many poets these days. Most of us, I suspect, lose money writing books of poems. The most common route for getting a book published is to write a 70-page book of poems, pay to submit the manuscript to contests and hopefully find the book a home. Then, there’s the time and money you put into promoting the book, which writers in every genre must do, I know, but for poets, there’s just not a lot of return. I don't know how poets will sustain their work or support their families in the long run in this industry. 

There is something liberating about realizing that the traditional route may not work for you. I love what Chris Janke is doing – big poetry installations where poems overlap each other or a landscape or map. I think Kenneth Goldsmith’s book, Uncreative Writing, is really wonderful, too; it’s probably a book that every writer should read right now, just to get oriented in the “textual ecosystem” of our digital age.

Elizabeth Hughey is the author of Sunday Houses the Sunday House (University of Iowa Press) and Guest Host, which was recently published by the National Poetry Review Press. She received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and she has been the recipient of Poetry Fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Hughey is a contributing editor at Bateau Press and a founder of the Desert Island Supply Co., a creative writing program for kids in Birmingham, Alabama. New poems can be found in American Poetry Review, 27 rue de fleures, Two Serious Ladies and the White Whale Review. She lives in Birmingham with her husbands and two sons. 


Sally Ball