I have seen this list of 21 women authors you “should be reading,” passed around. I have thoughts about the composition of the list, though I am thrilled to see Elliott Holt named because I loved her debut novel last year.
No two lists will ever be the same and this list at least makes an attempt at diversity, albeit a… hmm… narrow sort of diversity, right? Like, no African American women? No Latinas? No South Asian writers? And at what point do we stop using Amy Tan and Louise Erdrich as the sole beacons of literary light for people who look like them? To be clear, these women are absolutely women of color (along with Smith, Adichie, Danticat, Selasi) you should be reading, but they are not the only ones.
We shouldn’t be reading anyone JUST because they are a woman or black or Asian or queer or any other mark of identity. We should be reading such that we can look at what you consume and recognize a diversity of perspectives from writers hailing from a diversity of backgrounds and ways of seeing the world.
I have also been thinking about the ReadWomen2014 campaign. I have been thinking, “What a sad state of affairs it is, that people need to be reminded or instructed to read women.” If you need this reminder or instruction, I mean, come on! What is going on there?
It is exhausting that we are still trying to convince a certain segment of the population that women are equal to men, that women deserve respect and fair consideration in all professional and creative and personal realms. It is especially frustrating in the literary community, because I am part of this community. These are my people, or at least, that’s what I would hope.
I cannot believe we need to count and point out worthy women writers like we’re begging for scraps at the table of due respect and consideration.
Sadly, we are there or we wouldn’t be reminding each other to Read Women and look at this list of great women and that list of great South Asian writers and this other list of queer writers you should know. And I, for one, will continue to read these lists and learn from them and contribute to them because the need is significant.
In a better world though, we wouldn’t read a woman writer because we’re women or ::insert identifying characteristic::. We would read a writer because they might be awesome or terrible or they might intrigue or infuriate us and we want to know more. We would take a fucking chance because that’s so much of what we do when we read. We take a book into our hands. We turn the first page. We wait to see where a writer will take us, what they will show us. We hope for the best and sometimes we’re disappointed and sometimes our faith is rewarded and sometimes when we are luckiest, we are utterly transported. Reading is the one realm where I am an idealist.
I look forward to the day we can stop obsessing over the tour guide and surrender to the sights.
Poets should get back to saying crazy shit All of the time I am sick of academics or businesspeople telling poets What we should do A poet is a scientist To favor poetry Or science In that both relate to Buddhism However, both are things that melt A purple haze or dawn What sunken in Always a shifting mood, But it’s true, I love you guys and gals Of the wood and word Let’s say whatever it is we please We don’t have to defend anything It is our God-given right to declaim No, let me start again It is our universal law to speak Not an actuary to measure how thin The arguments of our verse To say we make a treatise in language, no No we go on living and living and living on That’s beautiful, and poems are, too Poems and shells These little nothings I pick them up All the livelong day They are the signposts of comfort possible To smooth the jagged edges Of this worried traveler That’s what poems should do And that’s what poets actually do Damn light Always going on in my face I just want a poem to speak of So I go on and on Into the night And the townspeople, they say to you That they may have seen A monster But no no I was only the dawn
When is your birthday (day/month/year)? my birthday is December 15, 1993.
Where are you currently located? i currently live in seattle, Washington, usa.
Which people have influenced your creative work the most? I’d say…in short…Barbara kruger, roy Lichtenstein, jenny holzer, mark Rothko, chris burden. I take more inspiration from visual and performance art than from conventional literature, I think
Why do you write? um…I write out of a need for emotional catharsis, I think. but I think that is a somewhat dangerous reason to write. I think literature, art, etc. have a certain social responsibility and purely cathartic work can often be quite selfish. so I think catharsis is my initial reason for writing, but I’m also interested in how people perceive different forms; I’m interested in advocating for a more liberating version of what literature can be and do.
Favorite planet/celestial body? the big dipper, I think. it’s one of the only ones I can make out.
What is your educational background? well, I graduated from high school in 2011 and was enrolled at eastern Washington university during my last two years of high school. for the past three years I’ve gone to the university of Washington in seattle. I’m majoring in English and political science and minoring in art history.
Early bird or night owl? definitely night owl. most nights I go to bed at ~5 AM.
What is your current occupation? currently I work as an undergraduate research assistant for the political science department. basically I help with this giant research project that tracks how often certain types of legislation is proposed in the US congress. looking for a second job, just turned in a resume at a frozen custard place. if you live in seattle, give me a job.
What’s the most recent text message you sent? “hey dude I think I lost my key can I use yours sorry”—I lost my house key last night
Tell us an interesting story about your family/childhood. I remember like…when I was a little kid, maybe 7 or so I guess, my dad really wanted to see the sequel to that movie “the mummy”…the sequel was called “the mummy returns I think.” I’ve never met someone so into those mummy movies as my dad; he was so pumped to see it. so I’d never seen a movie in theaters before, but we went…and got popcorn and all of that…and then as the movie was starting I started getting really scared. but not even because anything scary was happening in the movie, I was just freaked out by the scale of the projection on the wall, like I had never seen a movie that big. so I told him I had a stomach ache and couldn’t sit through the movie (this was during the opening credits), and he was so sad. I felt really guilty for lying so I cried in my closet for the rest of the afternoon lol.
What song you have listened to the most in the past year? according to my itunes top 25 most played, “palace” by a$ap rocky. I really like that song because it starts out with this huge bass thing and a$ap rocky starts rapping pretty much immediately like “uh god damn, how real is this? I know the whole world gonna be feeling this!!!!!!” it’s a very exciting song.
Have you had any particular life experience that has strongly impacted or informed your writing? I don’t think so haha. I write…maybe it’s not very obvious but I think I write about girls a lot…lol
What subjects do you most often engage with in your creative work? I don’t have any very consistent subject matter, I don’t think. but maybe…if I think about it…I think I engage political and social responsibility, death, curses, desperation, and the vapidity of communication…lol…
What things are you most passionate about politically/socially? ultimately I am most passionate about income inequality. I could go on a long thing about this, and I won’t…but I’d just like to tell a quick story. in Washington state, we have legalized marijuana and gay marriage, so I see this attitude in a lot of my friends, like this one girl I knew said recently “damn Washington, we’re the best, look at all of this.” but as it turns out Washington actually has the most regressive tax system of any of the 50 states, meaning that poor people pay a higher percentage of their wealth in taxes in comparison to rich people than in any other state. so if you are gay or smoke weed Washington is pretty good, but you better not think about being poor and gay, or poor and smoke weed. we hate poor people here. it’s sad. I think…given the social climate it is quite easy to be pro-gay marriage and pro-marijuana legalization…and I don’t want to diminish those things at all, it is easy to be in favor of those things because they are so clearly, plainly correct (excepting critiques of the broader institution of marriage, which I think are interesting and valid. but I mean on the level of how the mainstream thinks about these issues)…I think it is disappointing that young people don’t seem to care about how shitty poor people have it. and…I don’t know…there are tons of blogs dedicated to social justice, like on tumblr, you know…but I feel like issues of class struggle are under-represented in that environment. to my knowledge there is no jezebel for class.
So, what do you want for your birthday? I don’t know…lol…a girlfriend and a different apartment and a job. that’s what I want
In some ways, Ellen Kennedy is a difficult poet. She is the subject of Tao Lin’s novel Richard Yates yet it’s almost as if we don’t know enough about her. In an almost Zachary German-esque manner, she seems to have departed the field at the peak of her powers.
But the work she left is important. Her point of view is well-developed and her voice is startlingly true. Her poetry collection “sometimes my heart pushes my ribs" is a touchstone. It’s an absolutely crucial work for understanding where poetry is right now and how it got there. Her collaboration with Tao Lin, Hikikomori, is also excellent. She is the kind of poet that every movement needs on its roster— an enigmatic genius.
I’m preparing myself for an extended period of loneliness That will begin very soon I think I’ve illegally downloaded two new depressing songs I’ve placed a copy of Good Morning, Midnight under my pillow for easy reference I’ve printed out the tablature for every Morrissey song I know so I can sing them to myself Alone in my room Just a few things are needed really To make me calm While I figure out a simple, clean, and effective way to kill myself, With minimal stress for the person who has to find and dispose of my body But I’ll probably never think of a way Because I’ll probably never kill myself I’ll just lie in my bed suffocating myself with my pillows While listening to the four songs you said were your favorite And maybe burn myself a little with the iron On special occasions And the next time I’m in a subway station, I’ll stand a little further on the yellow line Or maybe the next I’m at your apartment I’ll try a little harder
concentrate on the muscle memory welling up in your hands until it disappears. then watch as they rise up like two unfamiliar squid and try to kill you.
or think about how any bubble in your bathtub is a little mirror in which you can see yourself violently drowning.
your joints are widening all the time.
in this way they are like a universe.
i saw them spreading on the stairs. two circus performers stepped in and pulled them apart. now you can’t walk w/o feeling spasms of intense pain that shake you up and down like a flightless bird of the desert.
i see your head swell and i want to wrap electrical tape around it until it feels better.
these are just some of the services i can provide.
i go around town on a tandem bike and in the back seat is a guy i know that looks just like me except he’s covered in black fur and smells like razorblades.
he takes aggressive swipes at me all the time but its cool because i know his arms aren’t quite long enough to reach and so i just concentrate on the pedaling and feel the wind on the back of my neck as he drools on himself and makes frankenstien sounds and dreams of the forest.
hire us to perform at your daughter’s birthday party.
i know her from school. we were the same year.
i was valedictorian.
i cried on stage.
everyone’s parents clapped and i was handed a piece of paper.
on the paper was a giant middle finger drawn in red crayon and i looked up at the principle and he slapped me on the back and made a finger pistol and we laughed about it for a while and then he gave me a ride home and tucked me into bed and told me a story and i was like, goodnight dad and he was like, goodnight son and the lights went off and when i woke up you were lying right there next to me.
i looked at you as hard as i could because you were suddenly a bell and you were ringing ringing ringing.
She could see she was becoming a thoroughly unlikable person. Each time she opened her mouth she said something ugly, and whoever was nearby liked her a little less. These could be strangers, these could be people she loved, or people she knew only slightly whom she had hoped would one day be her friends. Even if she didn’t say anything, even if all she did is seem a certain way, have a look on her face, or make a soft sound of reaction, it was always unlikable—except in the few cases that she fixed herself on being likable for the next four seconds (more than that was impossible) and sometimes that worked, but not always.
Why couldn’t she be more likable? What was the problem? Did she just not enjoy the world anymore? Had the world gotten away from her? Had the world gotten worse? (Maybe, probably not. Or probably in some ways but not in the ways that were making her not like it). Did she not like herself? (Well, of course she didn’t, but there was nothing new in that.)
Or had she become less likable simply by growing older—so that she might be doing the same thing she always did, but because she was now forty-one, not twenty, it had become unlikable because any woman doing something at forty-one is more unlikable than a woman doing it at twenty? And does she sense this? Does she know she is intrinsically less likable and instead of resisting, does she lean into it, as into a cold wind? Maybe (likely) she used to resist, but now she sees the futility, so each morning when she opens her mouth she is unlikable, proudly so, and each evening before sleep she is unlikable, and each day it goes on this way, she getting more unlikable by the hour, until one morning she will be so unlikable, inconveniently unlikable, that she will have to be shoved into a hole and left there. _ Deb Olin Unferth http://muumuuhouse.com/dou.fiction2.html
If you are listening to this, something has gone terribly wrong. The dog is barking at the vacuum. The milk has gone off with the car alarm in the street. I have 36 emails to reply to but I’m only barking at the void. Bacon costs like six dollars, and it still seems like reality TV is actually going to be a thing. Soon the black flies will be back. They’ll cover the window. Is there a moral explanation for my great incapacity to feel even worse?
When is your birthday (day/month/year)? ??/07/1966
Where are you currently located? Zurich, Switzerland
Which people have influenced your creative work the most? Cean Gamalinda, Nathaniel Otting, Hannah Weiner, Alice Notley, Andy Kaufman, John Barton Wolgamot, Wu-Tang, Madeline Gins & Arakawa, OBERIU, Dana Ward, Bernadette Mayer, & Eileen Myles.
Who is the last person you kissed? Emily Toder’s cheek goodbye
Why do you write? Ugh.
What is your educational background? I work at the library.
Tell us an interesting story about your family/childhood. Very Catholic.
Early bird or night owl? Woman
What is your current occupation? Woman
What song you have listened to the most in the past year? Popular song
Have you had any particular life experience that has strongly impacted or informed your writing? Alice Notley reading at Buffalo in 1987.
If your first true love knocked on your door with apology and presents, would you accept? We have a door?
What subjects do you most often engage with in your creative work? Sports & Technology
What things are you most passionate about politically/socially? Personism, archives, “no war”
So, what do you want for your birthday? Pay my rent
For National Poetry Month, I will be posting some of my favorite poems with a brief explanation of how I feel about the poet or poem. Today’s poem is two of the last five people here by Mira Gonzalez.
The only way I can say it is that she’s a national treasure. Maybe the strongest young poet working today anywhere. If you want to dismiss alt lit or scoff or whatever, that’s fine— but watch your mouth when you talk about Mira. She’s beautiful and rare and why we all read poetry and feel good to be alive in this strange moment.
two of the last five people here
i am imagining the sound of your voice on the phone when you hate me more than you ever have i am touching each of my ribs, which are visible now did i tell you that, i lost 15 pounds, do you like that i am drunk and leaning against the hood of my car i am thinking about that night when you pushed all of your weight against me and came out the other side as a small child in our minds we created details, infinite in number i am having a feeling that is like a ton of liquid rising upward through the top of my head creating subtle pressure when you tell me something about free will and loving another person how it will be better next time, or something