Interviews

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5 Burning Questions with Erika Franz

Erika Franz is one of our featured writers at our February 11th reading. Check out our interview with hers below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I definitely did some David Eddings inspired fantasy stuff in junior high that I remember—not the sort of text I am proud to be inspired by, but that’s as an adult looking back. I found some much older Sci-Fi stuff when my mom sent me a bunch of my old files a few years ago. It included a rather sweet story about humans returning to Earth with new alien friends they picked up along the way. I’m afraid I didn’t stick with it long enough to get to a rising incident, though, so not sure where the conflict was going to come from. In AP English Comp, I first learned to enjoy challenge particular of writing non-fiction.

How many drafts = done?

Oh boy. If I figure that out, I will let you know. It doesn’t equal a specific number for me, though. Fewer drafts go into a flash piece, in general, because I generally have already figured out what I am writing. Longer pieces necessitate more drafts, though really long pieces get a lot of work along the way.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

I am still pretty high of Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg. Probably my favorite read of the last decade or two. I don’t read in one genre exclusively, but I like books that can use historical materials well, and accurately allow that Queer people of every stripe existed before we had all of the modern terminology for our respective identities. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks does that really well, too.

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

I’m fascinated by narrative power. Especially in a country where we have collectively built an identify that is largely based false narratives we have mythologized, I think the diversity in our narratives is so important in legitimately healing this country and pulling us back from the precipice we’re living on right now. At least, I hope that we can still achieve that. Maybe that isn’t what excites me, but what compels me or gives me purpose.

 

What excites me is probably seeing a through-line emerge in historical research where a what-if can be inserted that makes us think about what we know about history and how we know it can be at odds with each other. Trained historians know this, obviously, but a lot of mainstream historical knowledge is either mythologized or antiquated or written for political control of a population and without any reference to what the diversity of primary sources reveal about the past. I like getting to suggest those conflicts, playing with how history gets disseminated or how things actually were in contrast to the myths and assumptions. And it isn’t always historical material, but a through line from one piece of an idea that connects to another piece of an idea that, ultimately, becomes a story.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

Ooh. This is hard. I like words for different reasons. Some I like specifically because of how they sound when I say them: gazebo. Some I like because they have an onomatopoeic sound aligns with their meaning: defenestrate. Some I like because they have so many meanings attached to them—this isn’t the best example, but it is the best one I can come up with for the moment: sure. (Have you ever received sure in a text, divorced from facial expressions, and tried to deduce how it is being used?) Some I like because of the word’s history: augur.

Bonus question: who inspires you the most, living or dead, real or fictional?

I love Alexander Chee. I do my best to model myself as a literary citizen on him and his graciousness with others and with both the literary community and the LGBTQ+ community (to say nothing of the Korean-American and extended immigrant community).

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Erika Franz (s/he, hi/hers) is a queer author living in Baltimore with an amazing wife and fluffy pets. Erika’s fiction has been published in the The First Line, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine. Find Erika on the internet at www.erikafranz.com or on Twitter and Instagram at @ETFranz.

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5 Burning Questions with Mathangi Subramanian

Mathangi Subramanian is one of our featured writers at our February 11th reading. Check out our interview with her below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

When I was five, maybe six years old, my mother went back-to-school shopping at Sam’s Club in Madison Wisconsin and got a huge, shrink-wrapped pack of spiral notebooks. She gave me one to “play with” and I started writing stories. Most of my characters back then were White – I didn’t realize you could write stories about people of color, because I hadn’t read any.

How many drafts = done?

Done? What does done mean?

I’ve never counted, but really, even after I turn in copyedits, I think of a million things I could have done differently. I consider something done when the changes I’m making are small, nit-picky things, like word choice and comma placement, rather than adding or deleting scenes. But I’m not sure if I ever really feel done.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

Abandon Me by Melissa Febos for memoir, and Perla by Carolina deRobertis for fiction. (These are my books of the moment. I don’t know if I could ever choose a favorite!)

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

I love writing and reading books that allow characters to be their full, layered selves. Representation is so important to changing what is wrong with our culture, and allowing everyone to live and breathe in all of their identities is essential. I like creating stories that do that, that give us all a little more space to fearlessly be ourselves.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

My daughter is four so I read a lot of picture books. Lately, I’ve been really into onomatopoeia just because it’s so much fun: nothing livens up a story like a good “kachunk” or “splat.” Thanks to preschool science, I’ve also gotten into cloud names – cumulus, cirrus, status, they’re all so poetic and so perfectly correct for the cloud they describe. My daughter is also really into inventing words – she’ll say something and then asks me if the word exists, and if it doesn’t, I’ll tell her to make up the definition. It’s my new favorite game.

Bonus Question: who inspires you the most, living or dead, real or fictional?

My friends in India who are out in the streets right now protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act in India. It’s a terrible, Islamophobic, casteist law, and some of my dearest ones are writing and marching and risking their lives and safety to protest. I admire them, and I wish I was there with them.

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Mathangi Subramanian is an award winning Indian American writer based in San Jose. Her novel A People’s History of Heaven was longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Award and named a Skipping Stones Honor Book. Her middle grades book Dear Mrs. Naidu won the South Asia Book Award and was shortlisted for the Hindu-Goodbooks prize. Her essays and op-eds have appeared in The Washington Post, Al Jazeera America, Ms. Magazine, and Zora Magazine, among others. A former Fulbright Scholar, public school teacher, and senior policy analyst at the New York City Council, she holds a doctorate in communication and education from Columbia University Teachers College. 

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5 Burning Questions with BobbiRush

BobbiRush is one of our featured writers at our February 11th reading. Check out our interview with her below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

The first thing that comes to mind, I’m already blushing and shaking my head at myself. I had to have been 6 or 7 years old when i decided to write a love letter to the keyboard player of my church. We called him brother Marcel. The letter never made it to him. It was taken by my aunt Sylvia. I will never forget that I’ve done that. I’ve always enjoyed love letters.

How many drafts = done?

I’d say at least 3 drafts equals done, to me. After you’ve made a mess with lines and arrows , directing the the flow of your words for a good fit. Then it’s finished.  Maybe. Is anything ever really done ?

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

I have so many favorites, but my ultimate still, is Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo by Ntozake Shange

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

What gets me most excited is that I can say whatever I want. I can share feelings and experiences. I enjoy the thought of writing possibly being taken too far.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

I don’t think I’ve come across a favorite word just yet. Nothing gets me going like a good F bomb. I’ve not quite fallen in love with a word , more than I’ve fallen for the way words in general are used. Hopefully soon a word will find me.

Bonus Question: who inspires you the most, living or dead, real or fictional?

My mother has been inspiring me more in her living death than ever before. She’s always someone I think on. She was a fighter. She was a believer. She did everything she wanted to do. She created the life she wanted for herself. Even living with kidney failure, she created.
After my mother there is Ntozake Shange. She’s a sound, a taste and a movement. She is the woman who reminds me of a woman I’ve always known and been with. I just love them.
Be Good.

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BobbiRush is a writer from Baltimore, Maryland. She’s been writing for 12 years of her life. She turned to journaling at the age of 15 to help cope with the death of her Mother. She had no idea she was nurturing a true passion. Bobbi created The BlueFaceProject, a home base for the writing she produces via her WordPress site. She’s a self published author of 2 books. ‘Words (Feeling… Feelings) , which speaks for someone who’s ready to understand themselves and the world around them. A book filled with self talk, poetry and prose. PUSSY, her ear catching, 2nd self published book is in the tone of a young woman who’s been speaking her self into existence. Bobbi has written for local Baltimore publications such as Tortilla Gurl, BMore Art and True Laurels. She has the many voices of black women writers for 5 years and hopes to keep nurturing her own personal language. Bobbiblueface.wordpress.com 

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5 Burning Questions with Jalynn Harris

Jalynn Harris is one of our featured writers at our December 10th reading. Check out our interview with her below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I was a super private kid. I started keeping a journal around the age of 7. 50 journals later and I realize I’ve being doing a longitudinal study on myself. I love research. The first journal I remember was bright pink with a feather glitter pen. I loved sitting in my purple room tattling to the page about my brothers and our pinecone fights or bragging about the igloo we made winter of 2002.

How many drafts = done?

Text is living. And, as the writer, I don’t think I have the say on if something is done. I feel like that’s the job of the editor or classmate or friend who has exhausted the “what does that line even mean” question.

I have such a hard time with re-vision b/c it’s the only time I’m not in a state of meditation when my writing. The first drafts generally happen in trance, totally focused on getting the sounds and shapes in the right order before 11:59 when my submission is due (I’m in grad school). Each poem deserves two things: 1) heavy revision while it’s being written and 2) significant time apart from me.

If I come back and it feels true and exact, then I’ll say it’s “done”. But writing is living and the process is way more important than the product.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

Two phenomenal books from this past month of reading: Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Alison Bechdel’s the Essential Dykes to Watch Out for

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

I’m always fascinated by the magic of poetic process. There’s always that moment when I first sit down and I’m like: can I do this again? But once I follow the string of whatever image, sound, or feeling I am meditating on, then the poem writes itself.

It’s the poem writing itself that both freaks me out and excites me. A few weeks ago, I was working on a piece and had two word docs open. I’d pulled all the words I liked from the 1st word doc into the 2nd. I was furiously writing in the 2nd word doc and it just was not coming together so I stopped. When I looked up, I read the words left in the 1st word doc and it was obvious that the poem was actually right there. I was like, “woah, uh, where’d that come from?” That’s what I mean by the poem writing itself. Sometimes I feel guilty for taking credit for my work b.c so many moments like that happen to me.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

The other day I was reading a note in my journal that said: All words are big words. I don’t know if I heard that somewhere or if it came from some part in my brain but it’s true: I like big words. I like all words.

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Jalynn Harris is the winner of the 2019 Enoch Pratt Free Library Poetry Contest. A Baltimore native, she is currently pursuing an MFA at the University of Baltimore where she is the inaugural recipient of the Michael F. Klein Fellowship for Social Justice. She is also the founder of SoftSavagePress— a press dedicated to promoting works by Black people. Her work has appeared in Transition, Gordon Square Review, Super Stoked Words, Scalawag Magazine, Little Patuxent Review, and BmoreArt

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5 Burning Questions with Marco Rafalà

Marco Rafalà is one of our featured writers at our December 10th reading. Check out our interview with his below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I think I fell in love with worldbuilding first. As a child in the 1980s, I discovered Dungeons and Dragons and it opened up a whole new world. I’d spend hours not only playing through pre-written adventures with my friends, but also writing my own adventures. I built fantasy worlds with thousands of years of imagined history filled with ancient kingdoms in decline and mysterious ruins waiting to be explored. I learned how important it was to leave space for the characters (in this case the players) to move through the world and change it along the way. So, as I was running a game, I had to let go and allow the story to go in new and unexpected directions. Without even knowing it, this was my first lesson in writing fiction—one that’s still central to how I write today.

How many drafts = done?

It took me ten years to write my debut novel, How Fires End, and more drafts than I can remember. Every piece of writing is unique and comes with its own set of challenges. But when it’s done, you just know it. And even then, there’s probably another draft waiting for you. At least, that’s how it was for me with my debut.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

My favorite novel is A Kiss from Maddalena by Christopher Castellani. It made my own novel feel possible and helped me see how a story about ordinary Italians during the Second World War—the stories of civilians and the hardships they endured—might be something other people would want to read.

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

I like to be surprised as I write. I start with characters, put them in a situation, and then see what happens. The discovery is what gets me excited.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

Most of my favorite words are Sicilian curse words. These profanities are theatrical, expressed with more than just words, but body language, too. Like Italians, Sicilians speak with their whole being in a passionate dialogue. There’s a weight and musicality to these words that English simply cannot convey. Translations often lose the colorful language and imagery that tell the full story of what’s being said. Take “mannaggia la miseria.” This is a common expression, considered not that bad in the realm of curse words from the south of Italy. But still, it cannot be translated as it is. It is similar to “damn misery” but it expresses so much more. There’s a rage and disappointment, sometimes even wrath, that simply saying “damn misery” does not convey.

Bonus question: what fictional wedding would you most want to attend, if any? This can be one you read about in a book, saw in a movie, or one you think would be really rad (like if Godzilla married King Kong, but something more creative than that).

This would obviously be a destination wedding, with the destination being Middle-earth. I’d have to pick the wedding between Samwise Gamgee and Rosie Cotton because not only is Hobbiton a place I would love to visit if I could, but I imagine a Hobbiton wedding would be raucous fun.

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Marco Rafalà is a first-generation Sicilian American novelist, musician, and writer for award-winning tabletop role-playing games. He earned his MFA in Fiction from The New School and is a cocurator of the Guerrilla Lit Reading Series in New York City. Born in Middletown, Connecticut, he now lives in Brooklyn, New York. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review and LitHub. How Fires End is his debut novel.

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5 Burning Questions with Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman

Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is one of our featured writers at our December 10th reading. Check out our interview with her below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

My first memory of writing is when I was about six and writing lyrics for a song called “My Sweet Lover”. A fan of Rick James, I made sure it was pretty funky.

How many drafts = done?

I don’t understand this question.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

Not sure if I have a favorite book. I love so many books. I am tremendously inspired by the book Makeda by Randall Robinson. It is such an exquisite work of art. It is in the same category of work as some of the luminaries who I consider literary royalty—Toni Morrison being the Queen Mother above everyone. Her books Beloved and Song of Solomon have been life changing.

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

I love writing. Lately, writing plays has pre-occupied the majority of my writing practice. I love the act of telling stories, crafting character profiles and determining endings. Dare I say it? The endings are my favorite part of the process, and I always start on them first.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

I love the word “zephyr”. The singer Teena Marie always seemed to find a way to use it in several of her songs. It always triggers a feeling of airiness and weightlessness.

Bonus question: what fictional wedding would you most want to attend, if any? This can be one you read about in a book, saw in a movie, or one you think would be really rad (like if Godzilla married King Kong, but something more creative than that).

I can’t think of one.

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Khadijah is a producing playwright and performance artist.  She is founder of Liberated Muse Arts Group and moonlights as singer/songwriter Khadijah Moon.  She was selected as an inaugural Quadrant Playwright by Theater Alliance in 2019. She coaches other creatives, helping them birth their creativity through her brand The Creative Midwife.

She is a recipient of a 2015 Maryland Arts State Arts Council Individual Artist award and is a 2012 Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund Forty Under 40 awardee in the Arts & Humanities. 

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5 Burning Questions with Vonetta Young

Vonetta Young is one of our featured writers at our November 12th reading. Check out our interview with her below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

In seventh grade, my science teacher asked the class to write about the perfect Thanksgiving dinner; make him salivate, he said. And I won, describing turkey, stuffing, and works in way more dramatic fashion than necessary. That was the moment I became a writer.

How many drafts = done?

When it’s finally accepted for publication. I know, that’s so “external validation,” but that’s my guide.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

My favorite book of all time is Lolita, though I’ve been saying that since I read it freshman year of college, so I should think of something else at this point. I’m in my thirties.

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

I love fiction because I get to make sh*t up! I write memoir and personal essay as well, so fiction is where I really let my hair down because I’m not restricted by what actually happened. It allows me to be people that I am not, like acting; there’s a lot of fun in that.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

Morbid, but “hospital.” I love the “ha,” and the rounding of the mouth over the word, then the crude “pit,” then the soft “al,” the last of which I always hear in my head as a ‘90s sitcom studio audience during a sentimental scene.

Bonus question: what fictional wedding would you most want to attend, if any? This can be one you read about in a book, saw in a movie, or one you think would be really rad (like if Godzilla married King Kong, but something more creative than that).

The one in the movie “Jumping the Broom”! A lot of my fiction is centering about bougie Black people being messy, so I’d love to soak in the whole scene in Martha’s Vineyard. Being by the beach is always an added bonus.

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Vonetta Young is a writer and financial services consultant living in Washington, DC. Her essays have been published in Catapult, DASH, and Lunch Ticket, among others. Her short fiction has appeared in Cosmonauts Avenue and is forthcoming in Gargoyle Magazine. She is currently writing a memoir about growing up with an absent father who was a minister, and a story collection about Black women being messy. Follow her on Twitter at @VonettaWrites.