Jandy Nelson & Ebin Lee On Pizza at Eddies, Writing Like Yourself &Taking the Peanut Butter Out of the Fridge
We chatted with Jandy Nelson, author of I’ll Give You the Sun, and Ebin Lee, illustrator/poster artist, a bunch of personal questions and here’s what they said. They will be reading at the San Francisco Public Library (100 Larkin Street) on Tuesday, November 4 for the Radar Reading Series. Click here for the Facebook event page.
Tell us something that challenged you in your last project.
The structure of I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN really challenged me, sending me off a cliff many times. It’s the story of these twins who’ve always been inseparable until tragedy strikes and rips them apart. And it’s also a tapestry of all these interweaving love stories: romantic ones: both gay and straight, complicated familial ones between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, the dead and the living, artists and their art. The story is full of secrets and lies and betrayals and it’s also kind of a mystery. All the different webbing narrative elements and intricacies of the story really overwhelmed me at first–I felt like it was way way bigger than my ability. I knew I wanted it to be braid, knew I wanted to tell the story in the dueling points of view of the twins, from Noah’s perspective when the twins are 13, and Jude’s when they’re sixteen after the events that divide them. I finally realized the only way for me to write the novel was to write three novels so I wrote Noah’s story start to finish, then Jude’s story start to finish (which took over 2 1/2 years!) then spent a year weaving their stories together which was like writing a whole new novel. It was intense–the whole process took almost 4 years.
Describe your perfect meal.
My perfect meal is a picnic by a river in the hot sun with all my closest friends/family, both living and dead: crusty bread, this life-changing cheese I just discovered called Bonne Bouche, tons of finger foods prepared by Thomas Keller and then dark chocolate truffles, all of it served with tons of Chateauneuf du pape and champagne.
Do you have a piece of killer advice for artists?
Don’t put peanut butter in the refrigerator. I just learned this and it’s been such a revelation!. Also, in terms of writing the best advice I ever got by far was this totally simple and obvious idea: Be yourself in your writing–get your personality on the page. Own your myths, monsters, and miracles. It doesn’t mean you need to write about yourself, just write like yourself. Like Oscar Wilde says, “Be yourself: everyone else is already taken.” This advice absolutely changed writing-life.
Besides “artist,” talk about another identity that matters to you.
My identity as Black kind of encompasses everything about me.
You get to have an epic dream date with anyone dead or alive: who are they and where do you go on your date?
My dream date would be with Neicy Nash. If i didn’t pass out from sheer excitement/nerves at the news that Queen Neicy accepted my date request, I’d take her for pizza at Eddies on Killingsworth (In Portland) and then after we would sip wine sprtizers and watch re-runs of Clean House.
What advice do you have for other artists?
Make tons of embarrassing drawings.
Mimi will be reading at the November 4 Radar Reading Series at the San Francisco Public Library. We asked her some questions about dating, writing and advice for artists.
Tell us about something that challenged you during your last (or a current) project.
The worst thing about writing the first book (The Gift of Freedom) was that I had to finish it according to an external deadline – tenure. At some point I found I wasn’t writing to answer a question about liberal empire, or to close the circle of the argument, but to meet an institutional metric for a “productive” scholar. And even though I was writing with friends confronting the same metric –we would literally sit in a room together and write for hours, next to one another, chatting about a sentence one minute and leading each other through some stretches another—it was still an incredibly isolating experience.
The moment I remembered that I had an intensely satisfying creative and intellectual life long before I came to the academy was transformative. A feminist literary scholar named Janice Radway came to my campus and in a lecture discussed my work as a zinester (with particular reference to the Race Riot compilations, and feminist critical theory in my zines) and its relationship to my scholarship now. I had been feeling so under seige on the tenure track that I cried for a few days afterward, because I understood so acutely what I had been missing for the last few years – which was writing to the question, for the argument, and of course, for myself.
You get to have an epic dream date with anyone dead or alive: who are they and where do you go on your date?
My friends reading this would know it’s a lie if I chose anyone but Keanu Reeves. That said, I have no idea what an “epic dream date” would be, and having only been on a few “proper” dates, and it seems like it would be awkward to go on a grown-up, straight-person date with Keanu Reeves.
But pretending as if this isn’t the most awkward question, we could just go to a punk show on his motorcycle (or if he still has access to that time-traveling telephone booth, we could take the booth to the Hong Kong Café to see The Bags or The Go-Go’s in 1979), and then spend a few hours going through the boxes of zines and records in my living room I haven’t made time to read or listen to yet. After that, we could choreograph a mash-up of a movie-fu fight with Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” dance and put it on YouTube as a performance piece. I hope he kept his sleeveless denim jacket from River’s Edge, because I would wear the crap out of it in the video. (Also I would be wearing Madonna’s boots from Desperately Seeking Susan, since those are the most epic shoes.) And then we could make a 24-hour zine about making art and getting older, and I could impress him with my carefully hoarded Letraset collection.
I should note that I am answering these questions with a cold fogging my brain. The other night, while otherwise wiped out on Advil, I randomly started a site to archive all the responses to Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety, or The Marvelous Sugar Baby.” I am totally a good time, Keanu.
Give us one piece of advice you want to share with artists – about life, bills, process, editing, brainstorming, anything.
I don’t have advice as much as I have “random questions about the nature of work.” How do we reproduce troubling measures of civic and capitalist productivity through binaries of activity/passivity in our cultural work? How do we evaluate an artistic process or object or experience? Through what measures of value, accountability – and to whom? As a scholar, I hear from both administrators and activists that the intellectual labor I do “should” yield concrete outcomes – whether in publications or grants, or in something measurable as “social change.” I worry about what these utilitarian (and sometimes authoritarian) demands mean for us, especially because I want to hold out a place for creative and intellectual labors that are slow to unfurl, or otherwise appear to the efficacious eye as useless, obscurantist, impractical, marginal, or wholly unproductive.
When you get the pleasure of hearing Thomas McBee share from his history, you’re kind of immediately.. smitten. Though based out of New York, you Bay Area babes are in luck because he’s going to be in town in a big way in October.
Oh.. yeah.. and Radar totally snagged him for the 2015 Sister Spit Tour (lots and lots of details on that forthcoming, but mark your calendars for Mar-April 2015 in spots like Chicago, Arcata, New York, LA and lotslots more and we’re still booking).
We’re STOKED! THRILLED! And filled with the kind of joy that is typically only inspired by having a thousand tiny kittens crawling all over us that Thomas’ new book MAN ALIVE: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming A Man is out in the world, available in print and exploding on the interwebs as we speak. Out from the City Lights/Sister Spit imprint, this book has already been described as “exquisitely written” by Jack Halberstam and a “sweet, tender hurt of a memoir” by Roxane Gay.
We want you to know all there is to know about this book and about Thomas and make the discussion around masculinity and identity accessible to EVERYone on the internets (just in case you happen to miss him while he’s on tour with the book) so we curated a blog tour for MAN ALIVE.
Blog Tour Details:
Throughout October, Thomas and Man Alive will be featured on the following sites:
- October 3: Largehearted Boy
- October 7: HTML Giant
- October 9: RADAR Blog
- October 10: The Handsome Butch
- October 13: Schmutzie
- October 14: Lesbian Dad
- October 15: Fanzine
Some of the blog tour dates are still tentative. We’ll post updates and links on the Radar Facebook page as well as Twitter. Follow us for updates about Radar events, the Sister Spit tour, and our favorite artists! Support the book by adding the hashtag #ManAliveMonth to your social media updates.
How’s that homework/stuff you’re supposed to be doing for your job looking? You should really stop all that productivity and come watch RADAR’s August reading series because it’s now on YouTube! Don’t worry, you’ve got the rest of the night to do work/school related things. This will only take about an hour, plus you get to feel some things that aren’t task related panic.
Here’s the thing about Jamie: she’s amazing. Make yourself a cup of tea, bust out that old foot bath thing you never use and have yourself some bliss listening to her words.
Finish that tea before you commence this video, because Kate is so funny you will definitely pee it out. Also includes sporadic feels.
Do you have any idea what a tintype portrait is? Neither did I. But they’re fascinating and so is Kari’s creative process in general, check it out.
Go hide your credit card. Do it. Do it now, because there is some possibility that you are like me and will use your designated taco money to purchase Ariel’s book somewhere on the internet immediately after seeing her perform.
Now go out into the world a creatively stimulated human and do those things you’ve been needing to do/maybe go to sleep and just do it in the morning.
RADAR & City Lights Books present a most excellent book party for Lenelle Moïse’s Haiti Glass on September 16, 2014 at City Lights Books (261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco) at 7pm. This book is part of the City Lights Sister Spit imprint! Now you have one more book you should most definitely read before summer officially ends. The time is now! Start reading it.
Here are some reasons why:
Haiti Glass, the debut book from award-winning playwright Lenelle Moïse offers an unflinching look at Haitian-American identity, disaster, desire, and death-defying love. In her debut collection of verse and prose, Moïse moves deftly between memories of growing up as a Haitian immigrant in the suburbs of Boston, to bearing witness to brutality and catastrophe, to intellectual, playful explorations of pop culture enigmas like Michael Jackson and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Whether it is the presence of a skinhead on the subway, a newspaper account of unthinkable atrocity, or the “noose loosened to necklace” of desire, the cut of Haiti Glass lays bare a world of resistance and survival, mourning and lust, need and process, triumph and prayer.
“Lenelle Moïse brings fierce passion.”—New York Times
“Piercing, covering territory both intimate & political . . . vivid & powerful.” —Curve Magazine
“See Moïse push stories from her mouth like it might save your life.”—The Root
Lenelle Moïse is an award-winning poet, playwright, essayist, and internationally touring performance artist who creates jazz-infused, hip-hop bred, politicized texts about identity, memory, and magic. Her poems and essays are featured in several anthologies, including: Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution and We Don’t Need Another Wave: Dispatches from the Next Generation of Feminists. Her writing has also been published in the Utne Reader, Make/Shift, Left Turn, and numerous other magazines and journals. A current Huntington Theatre Company Playwriting Fellow, her plays Womb-Words, Thirsting, Ache What Make, Expatriate, Matermorphosis, Purple, and Cornered in the Dark have been produced across the country. She lives in Northampton, MA where she was the 2010-2012 Poet Laureate. This is her long-awaited first book, and she is available for interview.
Too much time on your hands? Need more summer reading? How about for the price of free? We love our RADAR Monthly Reading Series because we love the people who come to our monthly reading series! We want to celebrate the books from our City Lights Sister Spit imprint and so we are giving away a copy of Beth Lisick’s Yokohama Threeway during our AUGUST 12 reading. Head to the Radar Facebook page to enter. We will pick someone at random and announce the winner at the August 12th reading!
About the Book:
Peering into life’s cringe-worthy moments, best-selling author Beth Lisick excavates territory that most would rather ignore. Funny, odd, deeply personal, yet somehow universal, these are the kind of memories that haunt us all, the small, awful moments of shame and humiliation that we’d rather forget than relive.
Beth Lisick has made a career of opening her life to her readers in all of its messy, smart hilarity, but this type of story doesn’t usually find its way into a memoir. With her trademark humor and sly intelligence, writing in short flashes the way these episodes tend to pop up in memory, Lisick recounts her most embarrassing moments with gusto. From a trick she played on a neighbor thirty years ago to what she accidentally blurted out at last night’s dinner party, she explores the bad judgments and free-floating regrets that keep her up at night, and the result is a daring, candid and wickedly funny collection of embarrassment embraced, the triumph of humor and perspective over everyday mortification.
Make sure to head to RADAR’s August 12th reading to collect your prize and watch some amazing performances. The event will be held at the San Francisco Public Library in the Latino/Hispanic Rooms A/B from 6-8 pm.
Or maybe you live somewhere not in the bay and weren’t able to attend, either way, you can stay home in your PJ’s (or maybe slack off at work if you’re sort of productive) and watch some radicle people share their art with RADAR and others.
Achy Obejas‘s video may include feelings, be warned.
Martin Sorrondeguy‘s video is so funny you may actually start to feel stomach muscles doing things.
Julian Talamantez Brolaski gives a short list of banned poetry words such as aperture. Warning: you may start to consider your own usage of such words.
Have fun spending the next hour on your couch and remember, stretching is also good.
Photo by Owen Leong
Radar: What will you be reading at Wandering Moon?
Tom: I’ll be reading a selection of pieces from my collection of fictions Look Who’s Morphing. The book was originally published in my home country of Australia and it’s recently been released in North America by Arsenal Pulp Press. In the course of the book, the protagonist, along with some other characters, goes through some surprising transformations, morphing into figures from film, TV, music, comics, porn flicks and more.
Transformation seems an apt theme for a full moon reading, right?
Radar: Have you ever read outdoors as part of a full moon reading before? If yes, when? If no, does the idea utterly thrill you?
Radar: What are 1 or 2 themes that feature prominently in your work?
Tom: One theme is: wild transformation.
(There’s a second theme too, which I’ll get to in a moment.)
Radar: What is your relationship to metaphors?
In my work, I love to draw surprising connections between seemingly remote and disparate concerns (which is the second theme in my work), so I feel like there’s a strong metaphorical impulse that runs through all of my writing.
Radar: If you could describe your writing style in 10 words or less how would you describe it?
Tom: My Australian publisher once said: “Tom is more thorough in the pursuit of implication than any writer I know”. In saying that, he used 14 words to describe my work, but I think he got it right, so we’ll pardon him for being so verbose.
Radar: What’s your favorite place to get dinner or drinks where you live?
Tom: I’ve been travelling for the last year and half so I don’t have a fixed address. However, I very recently arrived in LA so I need to ask your blog readers: What’s your favourite place to get dinner or drinks in LA?
Radar: Describe the room you’re in right now.
Tom: I’m staying at the Tom of Finland Foundation and my bedroom here (which is where I am now) is actually Tom’s bedroom. So I’m surrounded by Tom of Finland artwork, and his clothing and ephemera. In short, I’m in fanboy heaven.
Photo by Owen Leong
Tom Cho’s collection of fictions, Look Who’s Morphing, was published to acclaim in Australia and was shortlisted for various literary awards, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. Studied in Australia, USA, Switzerland, UK, Canada and elsewhere, Look Who’s Morphing was recently released for North America and Europe by Arsenal Pulp Press. Tom also has 70 publications of fiction pieces in literary journals and anthologies, and has received various arts grants and artist residencies. He is currently writing a novel about the meaning of life. Visit his website at tomcho.com
Virgie: OMG I love taco trucks and Frida and donuts! So, we share a similar interest in the discussion of bodies in our work. Bodies feature prominently in your poetry. Can you talk about why and how.
Baruch: I feel our bodies are such powerful and yet absurd things. We are so rough on our bodies, it angers me that we’ve spent so many centuries shaming, hiding, destroying them – especially the female identified body. Inspired by some of my hero writer/performers like Sonya Rene Taylor and Denise Jolly, I began to explore my own relationship with my body and that sparked Notes From My BackFat. Instead of hating my body I decided to have a conversation with it, turns out all my parts had something to say, those voices have helped me love myself more.
Virgie: Actually Michelle and I were on the bus yesterday after getting a massive sandwich at Molinari’s and I asked her what she’d want to ask you and here’s what she said: how has being part of open mic culture influenced your writing?
Baruch: A lot. So many snobby asshat writers scoff at even the thought of an open mic. Usually those people’s writing will put an audience to sleep. I know that criticism stems from fear in the weakness in their work, but open mic culture keeps you on your toes. Sometimes I go to an open mic just to read something new, raw, and I seek a nurturing open mic audience for that. Sometimes I go to test myself as a performer, so I go to the open mics where the audiences need more for you to wow them, and if I end up bombing or putting them to sleep, I know I gotta go home and work harder. I do have to state though, that I’ve done the work to find a place where I only let the audience or open mic audience influence my work so much, or half way, I guess what I’m trying to say is, being part of open mic culture has greatly influenced how I work on my writing, but I feel I’ve done a pretty good job and not letting it affect my writing.
Virgie: Favorite artisanal dessert?
Baruch: I will wrestle a wolf for some fancy tiramisu. And I will punch a wolf in the face for a well made mango mousse. Just kidding, I would never harm a majestic creature, unless they’re like a big human silver daddy that identifies as a wolf when doing sex fantasy play and he asks me politely to punch him in the face, then I would, then let him watch me eat some mousse.
I’m a sucker for good plain old-fashioned cheesecake with some bitter black coffee.
My mother used to make me a lime ice cream cheesecake dessert every year for my birthday. One day I pissed her off and she swore to never make it again. She has kept her word for the past 13 years, and I miss it extremely. I mean it was an out of this world dessert that she came up with herself, so epic, that when I visited with my cousin who I hadn’t seen in 20 years she said, “does your mom still make that lime dessert she made up? I still remember it, it is the most delicious memory I have of our childhood in Mexico.” She was crushed when I told her my mother no longer made it. Never disappoint a Mexican woman.
Virgie: OMG I totally would have said tiramisu too! Also, agree re: disappointing Mexican women. OK, if an actor were going to play you in your biopic who would it be and why?
Baruch: He’d have to gain like 60 pounds but, Demian Bichir! The why part – I honestly have never seen a Latino actor who looks like me in Hollywood. He is the Mexican actor that comes the closest, he’d have to grow a thicker beard, and eat a lot of donuts, but with a belly and more meat on his bones, he’d look like me, I think.
Virgie: Damien’s pretty hot but you’re hotter. Speaking of.. I’m currently obsessed with not only you but also Game of Thrones. It took a while to get over some of the betrayal and all the brutal and gratuitous torture, but now I can totally eat nachos while I watch it. Thoughts on Game of Thrones?
Baruch: Aw, man, here comes confession time, just for you Virgie Tovar, I have never watched more than 4 minutes of Game of Thrones. I’ve tried, so many times, and could not get past 3 minutes, I know everyone is going to hate me for this, but it does not interest me, I thought it would be good to come clean. It’s hard for me to get excited about a show where people of color are completely missing from the main character line up, I mean this show has more dragons than people of color up in them castles. I’m more excited about Michone from Walking Dead. I’m more excited about Adventure Time. I’m more excited about the comic book Saga, yes they are aliens, with horns and wings, but the main characters are aliens with horns and wings that are drawn to look like people of color, (eh, they look like hipster Latinos, but hey, I’LL TAKE HIPSTER LATINOS!). I also have never been able to sit through an episode of MadMen, Girls, and How I Met Your Mother.
Virgie: That’s real. The dragons critique is tres on point. Thanks, Baruch!
Baruch Porras-Hernandez is a writer, performer, and organizer, based in San Francisco. He has performed his writing all over California, and featured at shows in Washington D.C., NYC, and Canada. His poetry appears in Aim for the Head anthology of Zombie Poetry, –Write Bloody Publishing, Divining Divas – Lethe Press, Flicker and Spark Queer Poetry Anthology –Low Brow Press, Tandem – Bicycle Comics Press, Sparkle and Blink -Quiet Lightning Press, and is forth coming in Multiverse, anthology of Superhero Poetry, also with Write Bloody Publishing. For the past 5 years he’s been the curator and head organizer for The San Francisco Queer Open Mic and regularly puts together literary shows and festivals, most recently the ¿Donde Esta Mi Gente? festival of Latino Poetry and Spoken Word. He has been a resident artist at the spoken word program at the Banff Center in Alberta Canada, and the A.I.R. Program at The Garage, a Space for Performance Art, in San Francisco. He was born in Toluca, Mexico and grew up in Albany, California. baruchporrashernandez.wordpress.org
Alex will be reading at the upcoming July Radar Reading Series at the San Francisco Public Library on Tuesday, July 8, 6-8pm. We interviewed him on life, literature and clichés.
Radar: What would you say are the 1 or 2 most prevalent themes in your writing?
Alex: Why we have lives as opposed to nothing and American life specifically.
Radar: Favorite thing about New York & favorite thing about San Francisco?
Alex: New York: that it will never be your boyfriend.
San Francisco: that it wants to be your boyfriend.
Radar: Artist/author you love right now?
Alex: Ana Mendieta. But I’ve always loved her. Lately, I can’t stop thinking about a show I saw of hers in London late last year. Specifically some postcards she wrote to friends that were presented alongside artworks from different stages of her career. I’ve always loved the work but hearing her voice in those postcards was special. It made me love her more because I recognized who she was. I think she’s underrated. If you’re reading this go look her up now. It’s real work with a lot of heart and blood in it. No bullshit.
Radar: What are you going to read from on the 8th?
Alex: Poems from the new book I’m working on. San Francisco has been real good to me. The first time I came here Kevin Killian threw a party for me and invited all the poets. I had never even met him, or anybody here. This was in 2011 and before I published a book. And then last year my first book had just come out and I came to read and gave one of my favorite readings at 851. So I have a special place in my heart for San Francisco. And California in general.
Radar: What are you reading right now?
Alex: A lot of articles and press clippings on American serial killers from the 1970s and 80s, maybe some 60s. Various things on JFK, Jr. All of these are subjects I’m also writing and thinking about. The last book I finished was Joan Didion’s Where I Was From. Speaking of California…
Radar: Most beloved cliche?
Alex: The expression “if looks could kill.”
Radar: Thing that helps you focus when you absolutely need to get something done?
Alex: An orgasm or a cigarette. But I don’t have a lot of sex or smoke really. I guess I’m pretty focused regardless. One could always be more focused so I bum cigarettes from my friends.
Radar: Last thing that brought you to tears or made you laugh uncontrollably?
Alex: I cried the other night listening to a recording of Janis Joplin performing “Cry Baby” live in Toronto, in 1970. She has this line, in this monologue she gives in the middle of the song, addressed to one of her lovers, and she says “One day you’re going to wake up in Casablanca, or one of those fancy places honey, and you’re going to be freezing to death.” She just got it. She got the real because she was the real. Why would you want to be around anything else? When I’m dead I want to go exactly where Janis Joplin and Ana Mendieta went. I want to hang out with those kinds of people.
Alex Dimitrov is the author of American Boys (2012) and Begging for It (2013). In 2014 he launched Night Call, a multimedia poetry project through which he read poems to strangers in bed and online. Dimitrov is also the founder of Wilde Boys, a queer poetry salon in New York City. His poems have been published in Poetry, The Yale Review, Kenyon Review, Slate, Poetry Daily, Tin House, Boston Review, and the American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize in 2011. He is the Content Editor at the Academy of American Poets and teaches creative writing at Rutgers University.