1) You recently taught a course on experimental writing at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Could you tell us about your approach to teaching writing and what challenges you face in teaching such a niche and non-conformist style of writing?
That class is built around writing creative responses to the work we read. Ideally, these responses are an extension of the engagement of reading the piece, making reading an explicitly creative and active process. I try to erode the borders between our reading selves and writing selves and generally stay away from rules. In the past, the writing classes that have been most fruitful for me have been those in which I felt both challenged and permitted to be the weirdest version of myself. So I try to base all the classes I teach around challenging and permissive texts that illustrate approaches to writing that may have not yet been considered. And while doing that, I try to keep the focus on the generation of new writing, to support and celebrate that, to talk about the process and share the work, building in an accountability. It usually goes pretty well. When it doesn't, I feel like it's because I don't do enough to make writers comfortable in the uncertain space in which they don't know how or what they're going to write. Often people go there with a soft nudge. But some others are much more resistant, and there often isn't enough time or space in a 8-week 12 person class to push deeper into that resistance as much as I would like.
2) Your work has both cinematic and deeply literary qualities, could you talk some about your influences and how you have channeled them into your work.
There is a 30 for 30 documentary that's called June 17th 1994, made from TV footage of sporting events occurring while OJ was driving the white Ford Bronco. There is something in the pacing of this film, how it takes place adjacent to this huge media moment, and how the incidental non-TV footage it features draws an emotional underworld beneath "current events." I want to write from and about this underworld. I am interested in the places it breaks into our curated worlds. I found language for this rupture in critical theory. I spent a long time studying writing, literature, and theory both formally and informally. I enjoyed it a lot. I find much theoretical writing to be incredibly beautiful: Helene Cixous, Roland Barthes, Chip Delany are three that have been very important to me. I value beauty in writing but I am uncertain of a clear definition of that beauty. It is more of an intuition. I recently spent a couple of afternoons at the Art Institute of Chicago where they have rooms and rooms of paintings that illustrate the importance and influence of Caravaggio, but they don't have a single painting by Caravaggio. I liked this a lot, that the supreme fiction might be an absence, defined by what has grown around it. I'm not sure if that answers the question.
3) Where do you see your writing developing and what stylistic and thematic elements appeal to you the most?
I don't have very a good answer for this. I am always hoping that I will write something that I feel deeply and that others might be able to relate to. I would like to be more careful in my work with the absence and presence of the speaker and audience, maybe trying to dissolve these distinctions, managing my use of the first and second person pronouns. I want writing that readily calls the reader to make meaning, but is precise, and can be difficult. I don't think I will ever stop writing about illness, psychosis, and death. I like patterns and echoes. I like things that suggest the folds in our perception, imagination, and memory.
4) Writers of color and immigrant writers often avoid experimentalism in order to appeal to an industry that would rather box them.Is experimentalism an elitist form of writing reserved for white males, or can it be utilized by non-white authors while still reaching a broader audience? What does experimental writing offer to people in marginalized or foreign communities?
I think this is an important question. I do not think of industry often. This is my privilege showing. My writing is not successful in any capitalist sense. I do not have a broad audience. I don't think that writing that gets called experimental reaches a broad audience. It gets pigeon-holed as different and thus more difficult to consume, and in an industry that considers profit in any way, audience and consumption are inextricably linked. This is why small press publishing is so vital. I am a white male and an immigrant. That immigrant status barely dents my white male privilege. The majority of writers whose work has been called experimental and is or has been permissive and arresting to me are not white males: Renee Gladman, Bhanu Kapil, Summi Kaipa, Oki Sogumi, Fanny Howe, Alice Notley, Chris Kraus, Fred Moten, Maggie Nelson, Amina Cain etc. etc. This does not make me any less white or male. To me, experimental writing is writing that either intentionally or unintentionally transgresses the conventions of form, genre, voice, style etc. So as to what it might offer: a form of expression or discourse outside of what has been deemed conventionally acceptable, those conventions having been devised and maintained by a largely white and largely male body.
5) Please tell us about your book Fabric. What was your intent with the book? How did you develop the book's style?
I wrote most of that book 10 years ago and now I feel like almost a wholly different person. I don't think I had a particular intent other than to write about things that mattered to me, then the book took shape around those intensities. I had a lot of writing, but the moment I felt the book began to take shape: I was in a workshop with Lyn Hejinian, I couldn't get the question "What are windows?" out of my head. What are windows? They are gaps in this bodies of houses. What are doors? And I kept writing and allowing questions to emerge and prompt further writing.
6) I want to go back to what you said about "the supreme fiction might be an absence, defined by what has grown around it", like the movements created by an artist are often more interesting than the source of the movement itself. Of course, that has to be organic, but how can a writer be conscious of that dynamic and utilize it for their own benefit?
I think by accepting that we may not be able to write the things we feel we need to write. For me, to allow that failure to be at the center of my writing, and to understand that the failure has a lot to teach me. This quote from the Virgin Suicides has been important to me: "In the end we had the pieces of the puzzle, but no matter how we put them together, gaps remained, oddly shaped emptinesses mapped by what surrounded them, like countries we couldn't name." I don't know how much this has benefited me, but I feel closer to my own inabilities.
7) What are you working on now? Do you have any books coming out in 2018?
No books due to come out in 2018. It's been 6 years since my last book was published. I spent the last 4 years going to medical school which has slowed me down as regards generating writing and developing book manuscripts toward publication. I did just finish what I hope is a fairly complete draft of a book of lyric and critical essays about the intersections of language, illness, and mortality called Kingdom of Ends. I have a novel manuscript that I've taken apart and rewritten several times. I have some time now that I'm at the end of medical school. I'm giving the novel one last try.