Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Essay Blinks: A Post-AWP Manifesto

Image by @sarolee17

This year’s AWP Conference saw a trend in panels with titles like “Object and Subject: The Illustrated Book,” “Literature as Visual Art,” “Comics Confessional,” and “Teaching Graphic Memoir.” Whether we’re calling it the graphic novel, vis-po, ekphrasis, video essay, or illustrated text, many writers at this year's conference had images on the brain. It was exciting to be a part of this buzz while facilitating “The Essay Blinks,” a panel-cum-visual writing manifesto that featured Amaranth Borsuk, Mark Ehling, and Eric LeMay.

My original count numbered 13 panels on visual writing at AWP on. Between half-hour coffee lines and attempts at note taking in standing-rooms-only, what I took away from many of these panels was a new insight into visual forms as a home for narratives in flux. I came to better understand some of the ways these hybrid texts might allow literary translators, veterans, and queer writers a place for non-textual renderings that might ring truer into spaces where language falls short.

Slowly, and perhaps unsurely, more and more literary publications are making room for work that incorporates visual elements as a means of conveying and complicating their language. A common critique from these publishers might be that visuals are unnecessary to texts, or rather, that text can always do better what the image attempts to achieve. My intent in organizing this panel was to bring together writers who had mastered these forms in very different ways and to ask them what makes image and text integral to rather than extraneous from writing? What resulted was a manifesto that became a kind of how-to for our audience. Before the discussion began, we handed out 50 foldable manifesto booklets (a digital version is provided below). We also encouraged the audience to participate during and after the panel via twitter (@theessayblinks) by contributing texts and images.

For our purposes, we defined visual essays as texts that rely on the extricable relationship between two media. They require visuals to develop their central ideas and their visuals do not simply illustrate that which the text contains.

Manifesto book template

Though it’s taken me some time to realize, each genre has its own set of current and historic literary artists working in visual media. Part of how I understood the visual writing trend this year was seeing it as surge in connections between somewhat disparate traditions that share common craft and historic influence. Visual writing perhaps traces its earliest roots to illuminated manuscripts in which the work of text and image was integral. Illumination came in the form of gold leaf and mineral pigmentation as much as in wild animals and demons that threaded themselves through hand-painted type. To a reader of the period, these illustrations wound with text signaled nuanced messages that informed the content of their narratives in the same way an irony mark might today.

Illuminated Capital Detail, Book of Kells

Much later came works like Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, in which illustrations and marbled and color-blocked pages served to both section off and complicate a reader’s engagement with the narrative (A newest version of this book was republished beautifully by Visual Editions last year).

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (1759)

Later still, concrete poetry such as that of George Herbert and Lewis Carroll became one of the more literal modes that the space of a text might be used to echo its content (below, representations of a butterfly and a mouse’s tail).

More recently the 1960’s and 70’s Fluxus kits built by George Maciunas, Yoko Ono and George Brecht invited viewers to interact and curate the elements they contained.

Most recent of all, at The Essay Blinks, Eric LeMay opened the discussion by prompting us think about how design can guide a reader’s experience of a text through his presentation on saccades—the movements the eye makes when confronted with an image.

a. A jerk or jerky movement (in various specific applications).
1728   E. Chambers Cycl.   Saccade, in the Manage, a violent 
Check the Cavalier gives his   Horse, by drawing both the Reins 
very suddenly.
b. A brief, rapid movement of the eye from one position 
of rest to another, whether voluntary (as in reading) or involun-
tary (as when a point is fixated).
1962 Jrnl. Optical Soc. Amer. 52 571/2   The eye does not move 
continuously along a line of print in reading, but executes a regular 
alternation of rapid jumps, called saccades, and fixational pauses.
1967 New Scientist 20 Apr. 156/1   Apart from a rapid trembling 
which plays a part in the mechanism of perception itself, there are 
two main types of eye-movement: slow drifts away from the target 
image, and rapid jerks or saccades tending to recentre it.


From a study of speed reading made by Humanistlaboratoriet, Lund University, in 2005. 
Data are recorded using an SMI iView X 240 Hz video-based pupil-corneal reflex eye tracker.



Amaranth Borsuk delivered a true poetics manifesto in which she articulated of interrelated nature of forms and contents, and reminded us of the transience of both elements (all slides available here).

Mark Ehling encouraged writers to interject play into their process by using found imagery. He succinctly articulated this process by coining: “Find it, Grind it, Combine it" (All slides can be found here).

We hoped this might all result in the following: 1. A delivery of the inspiration and tools to experiment with visuals in writing 2. The means to talk about the craft and tradition informing this kind of work.

So go forth and write, and maybe ask, what might a visual say/do better here? Or here? Or try Joe Sacco, Marian Bantjes or Anatol Knotek. Or Eric LeMay's "Drive He Sd," Amaranth Borsuk's Between Page and Screen, or Mark Ehling's River Dead of Minneapolis Scavenged by Teenagers. Check out The Minnesota Center for Book Arts or New York's Center for Book Arts or The University of Iowa's Fluxus Digital Collection

Lit. publishers—we’re coming for you.

Special thanks to Eric LeMay’s Born Digital Writing Workshop for their tips for beginning visual writers. Additional thanks to Margaret, guardian angel of tech support. 


Sarah Minor is from the great state of Iowa and curates the visual writing series here at Essay Daily. She makes essays and visual art and messes around as a doctoral candidate in Nonfiction at Ohio University.

About the panelists:

Amaranth Borsuk is a poet working across media platforms. She is the author of Handiwork, Tonal Saw, a chapbook, and Between Page and Screen, a book of augmented reality poems created with Brad Bouse. She teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics program at the University of Washington, Bothell. 

Mark Ehling is a writer, teacher, and multimedia artist living in Minneapolis. His stories, comics, plays and films have appeared in international publications, on the internet and on stages and screens in the twin cities. 

Eric LeMay teaches in the writing program at Ohio University. He serves as an editor for Alimentum and New Ohio Review and is a host on the New Books Network. He is the author of three books including In Praise of Nothing, a collection of traditional and multimedia essays.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Nicole Walker: Breaking the Rules--Part 3. What You Don't Know

            “Write what you know” is one of those rules that you are told in high school English classes during your short creative writing session. Sometimes, they’ll tell you it again in undergrad but, for the most part, it’s a kind of cliché that no one repeats after that, since you’re expected to know what you know now. The “know” prescription underpins a good part of the creative writing pedagogy. The “write what you know” adage gets students away from language that doesn’t sound like them—either too formal or too pompous or too flowery with vocabulary that sounds like it came from the thesaurus rather than a human person. It’s a way to get the writer from writing about unicorns. What do you know about unicorns? Do they behave like zebras or horses? Are they beasts or angels? If you can’t know the nature of the animal, maybe you should let them be. It’s a way to get students to drive scenes, put their bodies in a place, use the five senses, draw from experience. You know your senses

            But in an essay, writing what you know is not essay writing in the way essaying—or trying it out, or assaying which means, although you probably already know this: trying to determine the content or quality of. If you already know the content or quality, then why “assay?” If you’re trying to preach what you already know, then you’re speaking a sermon, which is an writing of the persuasive kind but its teleology is already understood—to get you into heaven. To make you a better person.

            And maybe all essays do strive to make you a better person, but they also strive to make the writer a better person. Even the bible says good things, I think, about humility. While a sermon behaves according to the parameters of speech—the kind of essay writer you learn in composition—egos, logos, pathos. Bob Dylan, the main bible I know, says, “I’ll know my song well before I start singing,” but the essay is the quiet brother to the composed song whose humming out a melody sounds a deep resonance in the atavistic brain. It finds a word and plays with it on the tongue. The writer who begins not knowing anything begins with humility. Hopefully not false humility which is a kind of “I know I’m great but I’m going to pretend I’m not.” Beginning with a maybe premise, a possible bunny of an idea, that you then try to follow across the yard, bouncing this way and back, saying the word “bunny bunny bunny” not knowing where this idea is going and if the bunny is just trying to get you off its back so it can returns to its warren and rest. Here you have some many directions to go: Elizabeth Warren. The Warren Court. War and Peace. You did not know you were so indebted to puns.
            Then, in the middle of the essay, you might know something. Possibly that this bunny metaphor was a bad idea? Do you stop writing? Heck, no. You just keep groovin’ a long, singing your song, like Pete the Cat, the book you now know by heart, and his very groovy rhyming books. Did you just write yourself into a cul de sac? No worries! You have strategy if not forethought, enthusiasm if not genius. Where should we go now?
            Back to the beginning. The hint of a premise. You remember suddenly, you’re writing about writing what you do not know. What can be easier than that? The world is your oyster of non-knowledge. Sure, you can tell your Kumomotos from your Hood canals but you don’t know how to catch one. Perhaps knowing stuff is a good method for shaping fiction. To invent the not-yet-happened, you have to draw upon the already-happened. To make a unicorn, you have to rely on a horse. To make a man who lives in a cabin tying his own flies, you have met or at least heard of a man and the idea of tying flies. You’ve seen a cabin before. You can now write what you know and put it all together. You have a man. You have a plan with what to do with him. He walks to the river. You know rivers. He casts his line. You know the trick—over the shoulder like tossing a cup of coffee. Don’t get any coffee down your back. Then, flick the rod forward like you’re flicking paint on a canvas. This is what you know. This doesn’t mean you’re likely to catch a fish—essay writing is like that. Casting. Rarely any fish. But in your fiction, you have to go forward.  When your fisherman pulls a body or an antique can or a gigantic carp or a old plastic garbage sack out of the water, circumscribed its possibilities, you have organized your plot and now climax ahead.
            But in an essay, while you do sometimes draw a picture of a man and a fly and maybe even have him cast it in the water, you are not sure where to go next. This is not a story. You know narrative. You know plot. Forward motion. But now you, essayist, have abandoned the bunny for a fish. Maybe this is a piece about animals you’ve loved before. Maybe it’s an essay about the arbitrariness of fishing. Maybe it’s an essay about a young woman who writes about an old man she wished she could one day be. Lee Martin writes on his blog,An essayist is always writing two essays in one—the one that announces itself in the opening and the one that rises up within it.” My colleague Jane Armstrong says, “the essay always has the thing and the other thing.” I contend the essay certainly has two things, but I never know, starting out, which one is which.
            Lee Martin in his blog post thought that he was writing about his father’s lack of faith and his mother’s complete belief. Then, after he came to the end, he realized that he was also writing about his deep wish that he could have the kind of faith his mother had and that he shared, when he was a kid. Which is the first essay? Which is the second. He’s remembering scenes from church, listening to sermons. The stuff he knows and remembers instead of leads him on a trajectory he couldn’t expect. He couldn’t plan to go there but he relies on the specificity of his memory to turn associative and surprising. He could rely upon the idea that the essay is always about a faith you wish you had. He’s still standing at the river, fly in the water. Sometimes, the essay never leaves the bank. Sometimes, you give up the rod and check out the reeds humming some song you thought you remembered in your head.
            Using memory instead of the senses means that you have to follow a course you undoubtedly don’t know. You follow it until the end and maybe you don’t even know it’s the end. You go back over the essay. You see two or three threads. You follow each of the threads out word by word. Each word rolls like a lost ball of yarn. Come back ball! You weave the bunny in throughout. You remember to return to the fish man. You remember to describe the fish—oily as a broken hollandaise, which reminds you that it was fish you wanted for lunch—not to be an old fishing man. So you go to the beginning of the essay and you start again with something like, “I don’t know how to catch a fish but I do know how to cook one.” Or so you think, until you see all those bones and forgot your filleting knife. Still, you proceed. Slowly. You save most of the flesh. End up with a nearly see-through filet. You pour the butter slowly into the egg mixture. You stir fast enough. It doesn’t break.

Nicole Walker is the curator of the "Breaking the Rules" cul de sac of the Essay Daily neighborhood. She curates her own blog where, lately, she writes letters to the governor. He does not respond. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Matthew Vollmer on 21st Century Prose



Matthew Vollmer



It’s no secret that books are made of words. No writer or reader would dispute such a thing. The notion that words—their selection and placement—matter: it’s simply not up for debate. Or is it? Because it seems weird that so many writers seem more interested in foregrounding story—or plot—than the language they rely on to tell that story. Yes, of course, there are plenty of writers who do and have done this, and I’ll name a few as a way of explaining what I mean in a minute; I just wish there were more. I hope I don’t sound elitist, and I shouldn’t give the false impression that I don’t sometimes want to burn through something in order to find out “what happens”—I just prefer, for the most part, to experience the kind of narrative fueled by the idiosyncratic manner in which the writer sets words on the page. Too often, I open a book or begin reading a story whose writer seems content to rehearse the familiar—and thus predictable—ways in which words have been strung together and I think, not this again, and toss the book aside. Am I too easily bored? Too demanding? Or is it okay to say that I—as a man who is now inhabiting that space in his life called “middle age”—have begun to sense that time is running out, and that there are only so many books in the world, and that I feel less inclined to read writing doesn’t, in some way, exhibit more strenuously the infinite possibilities of what language can do? Because if I really think about it—and believe me, I do—the books and stories that have meant the most to me are those whose words matter as much as, if not more than, anything else. Bottom line: I want the books I read to surprise me. To show me new ways of seeing and thinking. To generate propulsive linguistic energy. To open doors and lead me down new passages, not only into parts of the universe I haven’t yet explored, but also to tap into modes of representation that exhibit an artist’s idiosyncratic and thus singular experience of being alive in the world.


I doubt that the vision of 21st Century Prose differs all that much from other publishers of literary work in that the central aim of the series is to introduce writers who are making compelling literary art to readers who hunger for the same. What do I mean by “compelling literary art”? Part of me says that I won’t know it until I see it, and that any definition I provide will be sadly insufficient. But another part of me says, try anyway, and that’s when I’ll point to the description of our series, which appears on the University of Michigan website:
The 21st Century Prose series celebrates varieties of forms—of prose that breaks the rules, bends conventions, and reconfigures genre. The books in this series engage playfulness and experimentation without sacrificing accessibility and readability. The voices represented in the series come alive on the page through prose that is at once down-to-earth and also a reflection of an artist at home with his or her improvisations. Life-affirming but convention-defying, the language in these books strives to be both groundbreaking and readable. The 21st Century Prose series listens for and endorses voices that have been marginalized, reports from zones—physical and spiritual and emotional—from which we have yet to hear. Kind-hearted renegades. Things we can’t describe but that leave us pleasantly puzzled, forcing us to say, “Listen, just read it.” 


I more or less wrote that description before I knew that 21st Century Prose would ever exist. Aaron McCollough, Editorial Director for the University of Michigan—and a friend of mine ever since the day we struck up a conversation about the band Guided By Voices in a Literary Theory course at North Carolina State University—asked me if I’d be interested in editing a book series. So I drew up a proposal. I didn’t know, really, what I was doing. All I could do was to describe the work I was most interested in, the kind of work I’d spent the last ten years or so reading and re-reading. Which, in some ways, is an impossible task, especially when the stuff I love most defies easy categorization. Is it fiction? Is it an essay? Is it both? The answer I hope to give is: “I don’t know” or “I can’t tell.” It’s why I insisted that the word “prose” appear in the title of our series. And it’s why I admire Ryan Ridge’s American Homes. One could argue that it’s a book-length essay, a series of essays, or even a series of fictions. In it, Ridge takes as his subject a series of ordinary things—in this case, the houses of America and their constituent parts, many of which are accompanied by illustrations drawn by the artist Jacob Heustis —and subsequently interprets them in ways that are hilarious, smart, and transcendent. The book functions as a catalog. A dictionary. A list. A series of meditations. A sequence of revisions and re-interpretations. A primer illustrating strategies for thinking about our everyday domestic spaces, and that by look long and hard at the world, we can transform it.


Walter Benjamin famously said, “All great works of art either dissolve or expand their genres.” It’s idea whose truth I can’t shake, in part because it tends to describe the kind of books I most admire: those that can’t immediately—or maybe ever—be neatly categorized. I think of Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, of Rachel B. Glaser’s Pee on Water, of Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, & Honey, of Percival Everett’s I am Not Sidney Poitier, of Scott McClanahan’s Crapalachia, of Evan Lavender-Smith’s From Old Notebooks, of Renata Adler’s Speedboat, of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, of Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, of Thomas Bernhard’s Correction, of Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star, of Knausgaard’s My Struggle, of Rachel Cusk’s Outline, of Stanley Crawford’s everything. What these books have in common, aside from the fact that they defy categories, is this: it’s impossible to sum them up. You have to experience them. There are no “spoiler alerts,” in part because they are not merely story-containers. They are doing something more. Each one exhibits a particular alive-ness to the extent that the books themselves almost seem sentient. One gets the sense that these books know you’re reading them. And that maybe they are reading you.
     That’s the kind of thing 21st Century prose endorses. We want books that can’t be “spoiled” if you tell someone else “what happens.” And we want to help writers whose books not only reflect reality in new and exciting ways—we want those books to feel, as you’re reading them, like living things.


Here are some more things 21st Century Prose might be said to endorse:
     Long, rhythmic, voice-driven sentences.
     The illusion—often created by long, rhythmic, voice-driven sentences—of bobbing in the wake of an unspooling consciousness.
     Short sentences with simple words.
     The fantastic, rendered floridly.
     The everyday, rendered precisely and surprisingly enough for readers to experience it anew.
     The sense that a particular writer is telling a story only s/he can tell, and doing so effortlessly.
     Extended meditation.
     The locomotion of a fiercely humorous rant.
     The flickering disorientation of collage.
     The graceful acrobatics of a close and nuanced interpretation.
     A voice that—like an unselfconscious kid dancing triumphantly before of a mirror—succeeds in being purely itself.


I like to think that each of the first four books in the 21st Century Prose series represents a singular voice on the page, and that each book represents the kind of thing that only its writer could have made. Each one defies description and summary; each is a book that must be experienced, in part because each is not only about the story it has to tell, but also about the story’s language. I could tell you that A Heart Beating Hard by Lauren Foss Goodman is a story of a young woman named Marjorie who works as a greeter at a big box store and ends every day at an Elk lodge where she orders a single Shirley Temple, or that Matthew Derby’s Full Metal Jhacket is a collection of fabulist stories that re-imagine moments in history or flash forward to humorously bleak futures, or that Charles McLeod’s Settlers of Unassigned Lands unfolds like hallucinatory prose poems about the desolate places and desperate people in America, or that Ryan Ridge’s American Homes is a compendium of aphoristic and often hilarious meditations on domestic architecture—but even the best summaries would fail to accurately represent what it’s like to experience these idiosyncratic and propulsive voices. So, for the most part, I’ll bypass that futile work. Instead, I’ll invite you to check the books out for yourself. Visit the 21st Century Prose series at the University of Michigan Press website. Once you’re there, click on a book title, and read an excerpt—or the entire thing—for free, thanks to the University of Michigan’s “open access” policy, which promotes the idea that the work of scholars and creative artists—human beings whose occupation it is to produce new forms of knowledge and expression—should be available to everyone. Hopefully, as you explore these new works—and maybe even purchase a copy for yourself, or order one through your local library—you’ll find a voice you can cheer for: one that, in its own resonant and uncanny way, attempts to get at the heart of its world.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Ching-In Chen: Queer interview series, part 3

This interview with Ching-In Chen is the third in a series on queerness, genre, and the essay. The first interview with Douglas A. Martin can be read here, and the second with Jackie Wang can be read here.

Ching-In Chen is a community organizer, the author of The Heart’s Traffic, and co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities and Here Is a Pen: an Anthology of West Coast Kundiman Poets. More of their recent work can be found on their website.


T Clutch Fleischmann: As with the last two interviews in this series, I’d like to start by hearing a bit about your relationship to categorizations of genre and of gender/sexuality. So, first, do you think of yourself as a queer writer? As a trans writer? Do you think that your writing, or your writing practice, is somehow queer, trans, etc.?

Ching-In Chen: I identify as a queer writer and a genderqueer writer with an affinity to trans writing, and also as a writer connected to Asian/American communities and communities of color. For me, those communities intersect and have been important to me in forming my identity as a writer.

I frequently call myself a blurry writer because I am attracted to cross-genre or genrequeer writing—and I think there is a queer and trans quality about approaching the boundary and tinkering with it in multiple ways. One of my writing practices is writing against myself, subverting myself, trying to trick myself into an alternate conversation or another vantage point. After many repetitions of this process, I realized that I was circling around a similar set of concerns, but I was doing this because I was trying to get under the surface of my obsessions.

I like the idea of writing that attempts to subvert the writer’s self—it’s so beautifully contrary to a lot of ideas about writing, where the work supposedly encapsulates the self, the body, the lived experience, etc. Subverting also seems to still recognize the presence of a self, even if only as something that might be subverted. Do you feel like you’re often successful in the subversion? Can that goal be achieved? The zuihitsu you contributed to The Letter Q, for instance, seems to write into this tension in really interesting ways (“You can’t filter out that voice in your head,” etc.).

Success is an interesting way to think about subverting the self. I am the same self, which also means I am multiple and contradictory selves. I see myself as trying to approach these selves, especially the selves not taking up mainstage billing, with an indirect approach. The goal for me as a writer would be to reach what's underneath to bring to the surface. I don't know if it can be fully achieved. Instead, I think of it as a constant approach. It's my hope that the deeper you burrow, the more your work might reach towards a new insight.

I do also worry about going dry or reaching a dead end in my creative practice. I have been trained to show up as much possible, to be present for the page, a sort of meditative practice of waiting for what will come and rise to the surface. I'm part of a writing community called the Grind where we commit to sending/revising something every day for a month to our grind group. It's been an important community for my own creative practice, but producing/working at the level means also that there is always that tension with how stretched I can feel while pushing myself to keep going. As a writer, I need to feed and grow that energy constantly to maintain that level of production.

And then the second part, how much do you connect or not connect to traditions of essay writing? You’re probably most widely considered as a poet, although you’ve worked across a range of genres and hybrid forms, and I read a lot of your work as having essayistic qualities. Are questions of genre important to you while you write, or in how you hope your work is received?

My first reaction to the question—I wanted to say I hate essays, but I also hated poetry as a K-12 student too. I think I'll say instead that I hated what I was taught about these forms in school—that straitjacketed 5-paragraph essay—and the way that I completed those essay assignments was to trick myself into giving myself an alternate assignment, something I could get obsessed over. It wasn't until much later I discovered there was a lot more to those forms which I might be interested in exploring.

In my family, my mom doesn't gossip or share much information if she doesn't have to (she operates on a Need-To-Know kind of basis). Alternately, my dad is a fabulist—he often fills in the gaps when he's telling a story or even talking about the history of a place or an animal. It's only because we know him well that we can figure out when he's telling a tall tale. So they are ultimately my models for what I think of as trying to tell a truth—and I alternate always between these various ways of knowing and being. I think because of this, I resist easy identification in poetry and I resist this also in the essay. I didn't know then that I could do this in my writing. Back then, I thought my only recourse was fiction.

Now, I approach my writing by planting clues and seeds for readers to discover, but I am fairly open about how my writing is received. I've learned that each word has its constellation of private and public meanings, networks and intersections. I can control the reception to some extent, but there is always a level of mystery also.

In terms of genre, I often am interested in what the various elements of each genre can bring to the stage of the page I'm working on—and what kind of effect different tweaks can produce. I'm not very loyal to specific genres of writing, but I have noticed that my work raises less eyebrows amongst poets than prose writers. Even if a poet isn't aesthetically pleased with my writing, in my experience, s/he/they has been less likely to dismiss my work as not being a poem, for instance.

Related to that, could you tell me about the zuihitsu form and your attraction to it?

I'm really attracted to the zuihitsu form—and its fungus-like, mutant quality. There's an offbeat-ness to it that I love, which feels like an alternate way to approach that boundary.

I appreciate its chaotic nature, which feels so different from other forms, which are so specific in their strictures. This form seems to me to an elusive form which captures a particular kind of feeling, but which is hard to pin down, unclassifiable. Very queer, in other words!

People are, as you say, much quicker to dismiss something as “not an essay” than they would be to dismiss it as “not a poem,” a dismissal that can often foreclose whatever conversations might have come from the writing. Even more than poetry, then, it sounds like the zuihitsu might offer an openness to you in this regard—like you say, its nature is “chaotic,” unlike other “forms, which are so specific in their strictures.” It makes me think of one problem with the queer label, which is that it can shift from being a way to resist categorization to instead becoming its own form of categorization. You write against your self—do you also write against the interpretation of others? Is your writing conscious of resisting that dismissal that might occur because of genre, or gender, or other categorizations?

Yes, because I think many of us can't help but write against others' interpretations of who we are. In a fundamental way, that is one of the main reasons I began writing—to create my own interpretation of my self, in a sense. But also, No, I don't necessarily write against the interpretation of others because my creative work necessitates that the reader invest themselves into the process to read it. Here, I'm not necessarily speaking of making sense of the work, but of piecing together a kind of map/configuration/constellation which will hopefully speak to them. My intention is to place those specific seeds into the conversation and to choreograph their relationships and specific conversations onto the page, in proximity to each other. In this process, I'm just as interested in how my reader/viewer receives these conversations and what kind of insights they bring to such a process through that process of reading and interpreting.

You open your poetics statement in Troubling the Line by saying “We are switch-boarding our words into each other’s, or into the lines that have been laid.” This recalled to me a bit of what Jackie Wang talked about in the last interview in this series, about “not being much of a literary school-maker,” but also about the books she carries around with her and the kind of sociality that books provide. Do you see yourself as operating in any particular literary traditions, or do you see yourself charting into something else (“change can’t just happen along a continuum that has already been established itself, or it wouldn’t be change,” you also say in the poetics statement).

Before the MFA, I was trained as a writer through community workshops at Kearny Street Workshop, the oldest multi-disciplinary Asian American arts organization in the country. In Maiana Minahal's Waiting For Our Words writing workshop, Maiana centered the words of queer women of color in her teaching and taught us specific poetic forms by writers of color. Since then, the lineage of aesthetics and traditions of writers of color is one which I have most actively pursued by participating in communities such as the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA) and Kundiman, the Asian American literary organization. That has been a starting point for the journey, but as I keep growing as a writer, I've realized how much I don't know and how wide this tradition is and I have actively attempted to read into the areas I feel I have gaps. I'm looking to slowly build that constellation of influences and to learn as much as I can.

It's been more difficult uncovering queer and trans literary traditions of color, especially by Asian/Americans so that's what I'm more focused on learning about. I'm more familiar with my peers who are producing wonderful work, but am curious about others who have come before. I think that's part of my work as a writer—to learn about that history and then to write ourselves alongside and in response and also completely apart. Sometimes, if it's not there or you can't find it, then to imagine the words backwards.

Could you name a few of those peers, as well as a few of the others who came before?

Peers doing wonderful work are many and include Margaret Rhee, Ryka Aoki, Soham Patel, Trish Salah, Tamiko Beyer, Ocean Vuong, Vanessa Huang. As I mentioned, those who have come before have been more difficult to trace—some I would consider mentors would be Kazim Ali and Madeleine Lim, who is the founder of the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project. I've admired the writing of folks such as Larissa Lai, Lawrence Chua, Justin Chin and Alexander Chee.

Writing against the self and as a way to get underneath the surface of obsessions is also interesting considering repetition in your work. People maybe think of repetition as a kind of circling, a retracing of the same movements, but you’re often able to use repetition to perform new movements instead. Could you talk about how that plays out in the manuscript that you’re working on now? Is shifting or queering genre also a way you accomplish this?

In recombinant, the manuscript I'm currently working on, the repetitive process is important because it helps me understand the ghost traces history has left behind. It's part of a larger project which works with Asian diasporic labor, both historical and in the present tense.

In doing research and accessing the archive (for instance, on census documents, Sanborn maps), I create seed fragments and then re-mix or re-combine. I juxtapose them with other seeds to make a new kind of movement, to see what might surface from that process. For me, repeating this process is a way for me to accumulate the material to move the conversation forward and also deal with what is missing in the archive, what is difficult in terms of whose histories, voices, fragments survived and whose didn't. Shifting and queering genre is definitely a strategy for me to tell a non-tellable story. As M. NourbeSe Philip writes, “There is no telling this story; it must be told.”