Atticus Review is dedicated to bringing you the writers that don’t already have a lot of exposure. We want to highlight underrepresented and under-published voices bringing both fresh, exciting literary styles and illuminating stories and narratives that need to be talked about more.
We also hear from our readers and contributors that what they like about Atticus is not just the creative work, but how we also bring craft discussion to you through our Weekly Atticus Newsletter, Book Reviews, and Arts & Culture coverage.
In that pursuit, we are thrilled to announce Meher Manda is joining us as our new Interviews Editor! No, don’t worry — you’re not mistaken. We’ve posted interviews with authors before, but under Meher’s guidance, we hope to expand our coverage of those fresh and exciting voices by offering a new channel for them to get their work out to readers, and for you all to learn more about what makes them so great.
To kick off this new venture, why not hear from Meher herself? She was kind enough to Q&A with me via email about her intentions for the section, thoughts on literary culture, and more!
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get involved in the literary world?
The more interviews I read of writers, the more I realise how clichéd this answer seems to be but I have been writing for a better part of my life. Thank you to Julliet Ma’am in eighth grade who pushed me to write outside the classroom, would give me a list of writing assignments every summer. At some point, a hobby turned into intention, and intention developed into practice. I wanted to pursue the MFA, be trained in craft pedagogy and read a lot, for which I moved to America, and dove headfirst into New York’s literary community. I have felt supported, inspired, encouraged to write, to think critically, to be conscious of my work.
What’s a book you’re reading currently, and a book that’s high on your TBR list?
I recently read Ocean Vuong’s debut novel, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” and I was struck by the book’s lyrical fluidity, which is to be expected of a work helmed by Ocean Vuong, but I have also been obsessed with the book for its ability to transcend the so-called “industry rules” that define the novel, and become a text that is so particular to the author’s voice. I cried with the book, read it almost clinically to best understand its structure and craft, and have returned to its softest pages for comfort.
I’m yearning to read Hanif Abdurraqib’s and Meena Kandasamy’s next, and Aria Aber’s debut. I’m also looking forward to writers I have known and loved and discovered through the literary community to make their debut, to release their nexts, to be the writers they want to be. I’m always hoping to be worthy of their book. I want to read through the bibliographies of my favourite writers, be their most dedicated student. I also some day want to read Ulysses so I can say I have! I just cannot…put up with it for today. One day!
What kind of writing moves you, personally?
I’m a sucker for stories about mothers, to mothers, and from mothers. “My Name Is Lucy Barton” for instance, absolutely wrecks me. As did the new Ocean Vuong novel, Ishle Yi Park’s The Temperature of this Water, and anytime Sharon Olds writes about mothers. I also naturally gravitate to stories about family, identity and culture. I also love works that have a unique narrative flow, or form.
Moment of transparency: you approached AR with the idea for this section. So, why interviews? What can they offer us that’s different from other forms of book coverage and criticism?
As a reader, there is no other form I enjoy in long form journalism as a delicious, fully-fleshed out profile of an artist I admire. As a journalist and writer, I think it can be the least navel gaze-y form of writing and coverage. It allows the artist at the centre to reflect on their work, to decide whether they want to clarify or explain the influences behind their art. When I read an interview, I imagine myself having already enjoyed the work being discussed, and invited to just chat with the artist I admire or am curious about. Book coverage and criticism can erase the the artist and hyper focus on the work, which is interesting too for academic and literary criticism, but a profile circles back to where the art originates from.
Which is why interviewers are so important to me. They become the voice that bridges the artist to their audience, and a half-baked, stock interview seems a waste of time and space. Every writer deserves the question that best explores their work! As the Interviews Editor, I get to interview my favourite writers, and edit pieces that speak to my favourite writers. It’s purely selfish.
I nerd out over writing habits and rituals, tend to ask about that a lot. Are there any particular things you like to ask every writer?
When I read a book, I’m obsessed with the use of ‘I,’ the narrative voice. So I’m always interested in the narrative choices being made. And also structure. I study structure, arrangement, deeply.
What are your plans for the Interviews section?
To highlight and make space for emerging literary talent being published by independent publishing houses, and the people committed to independent publishing, to also interview writers who haven’t had a whole book published, but have been actively putting out work. To think critically and personally and emotionally about work. To be invested.
Literary culture is filled with constant promotion and hype today, and it can be tiring. Where do interviews fit into this? How should writers think of them?
Unfortunately the arts in general, and literature in particular rests so much on exposure. As an author, you should have been published, followed on social media, read at book tours and readings, and interviewed and reviewed everywhere. So I can understand why interviews can feel like an exhausting something you have to put up with as a writer. But I think the sit down, conversational, inquisitive quality make interviews different from other events that can seem like forced socialisation. A good interviewer asks critical questions about the work, and as a writer I would argue that it can sometimes help authors reconsider their works in ways they didn’t before.
What are some tips for conducting a good interview?
Read every piece of work that the author has produced and released into the world, which is foundational research. Also, read and access any other interviews the writer may have given, lest you ask the same questions that the author has answered and clarified many times over. When asking questions about their work, avoid standard, stock questions (like: “what’s the influence?” or “Where did the title come from?”). Instead, look for interesting, intentional choices being made in the work to inspire your conversation. And if you’re interviewing a woman or author of color, avoid falling into the trap of questions that threaten to “other” the artist or their work, reduce it to stereotypes, or equate the author to the narrative voice of their work. No, POC and women writer more than trauma. Don’t reduce their work to lived pain.
Which author would be your dream interview, living or dead?
Oh, so many. Salman Rushdie, for one. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with him one-on-one, and he’s an institution. Also, he’s a bonafide rockstar who has been interviewed so many times over, it would be a challenge to come up with questions that are unique. Also Elizabeth Strout, Volga (Telugu feminist writer), Sharon Olds, and Paul McCartney. I wish I could have interviewed musician Jason Molina, who is one of my most favourite poets of all time.
Learn more about Meher here, and follow her on Twitter @meherness.