JI: On HTMLGiant you have made no secret of your literary tastes as a reader, and your own propensities as a writer. You have admitted that you struggle with “experimental” literature. Yet here, in “Glass,” you tell a story that is structurally experimental and provides a number of possibilities for plot and character. It reminds me a bit of Coover’s “The Babysitter.” What’s up with that?
RG: “Glass” is part of a larger project where I was trying to experiment with multiple versions of a similar narrative–a relentless excess. Another section will appear in Versal 10. I am always trying to grow as a writer, to try new things and as I’ve thought about experimental writing, I’ve realized I’ve been intimidated by it as both a reader and writer. How do those writers create such fascinating work? What is the method to their madness? I want to find that method.
Thematically, “Glass” is definitely in step with a lot of my more traditional work but I’m playing with form and repetition and excess; I am definitely stepping beyond my comfort zone with the structure of the story.
JI: Does this discomfort strike you in a good way, in that–thematically–do you think you’re more willing to meander into darker territory by virtue of the form?
RG: The discomfort does strike me in a good way though I find that a lot of my writing is fairly dark. There is definitely a comfort level with darkness that extends well beyond the form I play with in this story. I will say though that here, I totally allowed myself to just keep going and going, making the story darker and darker and knowing that I was working with repetition, I totally let loose.
JI: So, why Haiti? Is your ethnicity Haitian? What drew you to the voices from this tiny half of an island?
RG: I am Haitian American. I was raised with a very strong Haitian background so there was this idea of a different kind of home that wove in and out of my childhood in different ways. Haiti is a complex, beautiful country and there is more than one Haitian story to be told, despite the slant with which the media tends to report on Haiti. Through my writing, I try to understand the country in the best ways I can which are, admittedly, limited because I write from a place of privilege.
JI: Your nonfiction tends toward social and political ideals/movements. In particular, you seem to write a lot in reaction to women as they are portrayed in media, or how women respond to media. It’s clear that, while the women’s rights movements of the 20th century made great strides toward sex and gender equality in the United States, it appears there is still much work to be done. In light of some of your recent articles (“Dear Young Ladies Who Love Chris Brown So Much They Would Let Him Beat Them,” and “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence”) would you say that there has been some cultural backsliding? A regression, of sorts, to a pre-women’s-rights era?
RG: The majority of my writing, fiction and nonfiction, deals with gender, sexuality, and/or violence in some way. These are important things to write about. There has been a great deal of cultural backsliding. It’s pretty clear that there are certain factions declaring war on women right now across several fronts. That sounds kind of alarmist but if you read the news, it’s quite obvious. Congress is holding hearings on birth control? Congress is holding hearings on birth control and no women are invited to participate? Really? They tried to evoke the term “forcible rape,” as if there’s any other kind. The female body remains a legislative topic which is about as horrifying a state of affairs as I can think of. I want to see a congressional hearing on ejaculate. How about that? And of course, abortion is perpetually under attack. Planned Parenthood is under attack. Young women have internalized the pervasive cultural notion that women are the lesser sex and are willing to let a half-assed, abusive “singer” like Chris Brown beat them to spend a few minutes in his presence. I could go on. Frankly, regression is a bit mild because it implies that the receding is slow. It would be more accurate to say women’s rights are collapsing beneath the weight of a right wing agenda to control women. It is beyond absurd that we even have to discuss women’s rights in 2012. Our rights should be so innate as to no longer merit discussion.
JI: As a publisher, you have also published writers whose work deals with (however tangentially) these inequities–in particular, xTx, Brandi Wells, Lauren Becker, Erin Fitzgerald, Kirsty Logan, Michelle Reale and Amber Sparks. If you can, describe your aesthetic as a publisher.
RG: I am drawn to writing that leaves a mark, that has some kind of impact, that puts words together in seductive, unexpected ways. What I love about the writers I’ve published and will publish is that their work absolutely functions in conversation with contemporary issues, and often with these gender troubles, but they don’t do so in ways that seem overt or hell bent on conveying a Message.
JI: While in your nonfiction, as I mentioned above, you’re often writing about women, the protagonists of the stories in Ayiti are fairly evenly spread between males and females. Of the males, you write about young boys and young men, and you write them well (I can attest to that, I think, since I’m a male). My favorite character is Lucien in “Cheap, Fast, Filling.” Do you find it difficult to write male characters, especially to give them a complicated humanity? Is it easier for you to write women?
RG: I don’t really find it difficult to write men these days. Men and women aren’t as different as our cultural narratives suggest. Are there differences? Yes. And those differences fascinate me. Those differences are why I love men and find them so intriguing. But I also think there are commonalities between men and women that speak to the human experience and that rise above some of the pettier things we worry about when writing from the perspective of a different gender. Lucien is a stranger in a strange land. He is scared and lonely and desperately hopeful. That’s not a man’s story. That’s a human being’s story. I always feel like a stranger in a strange land so it wasn’t a stretch to imagine his story. When I write from a man’s perspective, I try to write about things I can most relate to. I don’t know if it is easier for me to write women but I do feel a responsibility (in a good rather than burdensome way) to write women’s stories. Their stories deserve and demand to be told.
Photo Source: Chris Brown Pictures
© 2012 Jamie Iredell. All rights reserved.