I’ve been a fan of Artists’ Tea since moving to Joshua Tree, California, 3 years ago, and I am thrilled to be the guest artist on Sunday, Feb 16, 2020. Join me in this exquisite setting for a free talk about how I seek metaphorical connections to find a “way in” to writing creative nonfiction, particularly the personal narrative. Participants will have an opportunity to produce a short written piece that they may, if they wish, share with the group. If you’re in or anywhere near Joshua Tree, I hope you’ll meet us at Cap Rock.
Huge thanks to Read Her Like an Open Book for allowing me to explain how Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology came to be. As Editor Bill Wolfe said on Twitter: “When enough is enough, it’s time to take out the bullhorn.”
From Not Feckless: How a Writer Becomes a Publisher in a Moment of Rage: “I became a publisher impulsively, in this moment of rage. My own words failed. But I knew there were writers who still had theirs, who could articulate their fury, indignation, sorrow. That’s how it works, in this resistance marathon: we take turns. We share, and our collective words carry us. … I had no idea how to publish a book. I figured I would learn.”
I get it. Some of you are uncomfortable with the word “cunt.” You certainly don’t want to hear it said aloud. You don’t even want to see it written, each letter just sitting there, brazen, unashamed, like a naked body sprawled across the floor you have to step over and can’t avoid:
C U N T.
Here’s the thing: I’m not sorry. I won’t apologize for Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology. Never. I will not tiptoe around your discomfort. I will not even soften it by inserting asterisks where letters belong. Although, of course, I realize that some people and publications will require asterisks, I will never use them. Words are powerful, yes. If a word makes you uncomfortable, look at it harder. Your discomfort is the point. If you’re not a member of a marginalized group that has had “cunt” used to oppress you: YOU DON’T GET A SAY. If it has been used against you, I’m sorry. And, also: I think you’re going to want to read this book. These 36 fierce contributors have the guts to confront this word, and—more importantly—the sexist culture that defined and weaponized it. These contributors take back “cunt.” They take control of the narrative of our own lives.
These 55 lean, feminist pieces (poems and very short prose) don’t back away from controversy. They run headlong toward what we’ve been told not to say, think, be. They reject the patriarchal idea that we’re forbidden to speak the words used against us. I invite you to join us.
It’s okay if you’re not ready. But do not ask me to spend time and energy explaining or excusing myself. The time for that sort of endless, unpaid, emotional labor by women is over. Read Feckless Cunt to understand why I think it is not only okay but necessary to write and say
C U N T
as many times as it takes to change the world, a little. You do not have to listen. You do not have to stay in this room where C U N T is sprawled across the floor. I just ask that you let us speak and write and confront what needs confronting. I am not afraid of words or your disapproval. I am afraid of losing my freedom of speech—an understandable fear, I think, considering how the current administration makes daily noise against the free press and dissent. Speak now or forever…better yet, listen: Feckless Cunt will be available for order in the next couple of weeks. I will let her have the final say, without asterisks or apologies.
2016 can’t show itself out soon enough. Aside from all the lost icons and heroes, the contentious, too-long U.S. election ruined any sense of unity on the Left, killed the dream of a woman president, and ripped off a bandage to reveal our festering, misogynist, racist mess. And then there’s my personal life. I won’t get into that.
In 2017 my only child will leave for college. That’s a good thing, the best. He is whip-smart and thoroughly kind and will improve the world just by living in it. He’s a straight white male who gets it. Yes, I’m writing this through tears but I’m not sad, really.
In 2017 I will move to California’s Mojave desert, where I’ve dreamed of living since I first encountered it years ago. Immediately, it felt like home. The silence, so complete, is precious comfort. I am running toward it, laden with baggage. Okay, not running. But I am moving, inexorably.
I am moving toward the only things I know for sure: I must be somewhere I can write and edit and make art and be myself and think. I believe that California will be a safer place for women than any state that went for Trump, as did the state I’ve lived in for a decade: Georgia. Georgia, I will remember you like an ex-lover: with some fondness, but completely sure that we are done. Goodbye, good luck. Surprisingly, my county, north of Atlanta and traditionally conservative, went for Hillary. A small, bright spot of blue in a sea of angry red. I take comfort in that, and some pride. For years I stuck my neck out in hostile territory, despite knowing I was surrounded by concealed, loaded guns. I won’t miss that.
I am running away to California as I did once before, in 1990. So many adventures began for me in San Francisco. So many heartbreaks. I have no illusions that California is a perfect place, not at all, or immune to the destruction that will be wrought by Trump & Co. But California is a hopeful, forward-looking place. That’s where I want to be.
In 2017 I will finish (?) my current novel-in-progress, which I love and can’t wait to share but I’ll have to write it first, won’t I? Too much of it still lives in my imagination but you can’t see that. You can’t hear what I’m trying to say unless I say it. So in 2017, I will try.
I wish everyone moments of joy in the new year, and moments of blinding outrage, too, because without that how will we stay motivated to fight? Gather your strength; we will need it. Say what you mean. Go where you want.
Move inexorably toward whatever you know for sure, even if it is only one small thing. Be brave. Live now. I am writing this through tears but I’m not sad, or not only.
I recently found myself in the completely new (to me) position of being interviewed while at the same time I interviewed someone else. Everyone involved is a writer: MaryAnne Kolton, who had wonderful things to say about Not On Fire, Only Dying, is conducting an interview with me. I hope to be able to share news of its publication soon. Her perceptive, thoughtful questions send me into deep memory and contemplation. I find it thrilling and terrifying. It’s a challenge for this introvert, stepping out from behind the veil of fiction.
Of course I am wildly grateful for the opportunity to discuss the book, which I always believed in, even when it seemed it would never find its home. I never expected it to have a huge audience, but I believed–and have since had it confirmed–that some fine people would read it and get it and love it hard.
At the same time I interviewed Grant Faulkner. He is a fascinating contradiction: co-founder of the journal 100 Word Story and author of Fissures, a collection of his own spare, exquisitely crafted 100-word stories. He’s also Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), that month-long marathon in pursuit of a 50,000-word novel, however rough. This happens to be an exciting time in Grant’s emerging career. The interview was published at Necessary Fiction, where I serve as Reviews Editor.
All this Talk Talk-ing about myself reminds me of the 80s (honestly what doesn’t? I’ll use any excuse.) Gwen, you’re fierce and I love you, but you almost ruined this song for me. The antidote is listening to the original. And for a few minutes: no talk.
This morning, Facebook — keeper of our collective if incomplete memories — informed me that exactly one year ago today I officially took the reins as Reviews Editor for Necessary Fiction. Back in 2012 they published my story The Worst Girl’s Best Day, followed by two book reviews. Editor Steve Himmer helped me sculpt my story into what I’d intended from the beginning. When Michelle Bailat-Jones decided to move from Reviews Editor to her current position as Translations Editor, I came on board. I’d enjoyed working with both of them and knew them to be nice people and excellent editors. I was thrilled and honored to join them.
Each Monday we publish a review of a recent book from an independent press. There are outstanding works of fiction included here: novels and novellas and collections and forms that defy easy categorization by authors from all over the world. They are inventive, risky, ambitious. They are obsessed with language or big questions or both. Every week of this past year I heard from publishers, publicists, and authors with news of books forthcoming. My own debut novel was published last month by a small press: Twisted Road Publications. It was a remarkable experience, preparing for my book’s publication (for the first time, seeing it from the inside), while editing reviews to help introduce other small press books. As someone who was once mostly concerned with “big pubs” and high-profile titles backed by national media campaigns (as a Book Buyer for the wholesaler Baker & Taylor), what I saw and learned this year was enlightening and empowering.
If you’re like me, you try to be a good “literary citizen” but it never feels like enough. Sure, I give time to Necessary Fiction and the journal escarp. I buy small press books from the publisher (usually). I live way out in the Atlanta ‘burbs but I go into town for (some) readings. I’ve written reviews, not nearly enough. I try to share other writers’ good news on social media. But so much is missed. So much isn’t done. We have our own writing to nurture, after all, not to mention careers and families.
This morning, after the latest review went live at Necessary Fiction, I listened to Episode 3 of the Citizen Lit podcast, which states an intention to explore “what it means to be an active member of the writing world.” This week’s episode features poet and Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) founder Erin Elizabeth Smith. Host Jim Warner describes her as someone who “is a builder of community and epitomizes the term literary citizen.” A lot of you probably already know Erin but I just met her last month, when I read from Not On Fire, Only Dying as part of the SAFTA Reading Series. I knew of her involvement with Sundress and Firefly Farms but did not fully understand the number of irons she has in the literary fire. I enjoyed listening to her discuss, among other things, how she creates opportunities and spaces where writers can learn, get work done alone, or share it with others. Give the episode a listen and then subscribe to the Citizen Lit podcast. (In Episode 1, you’ll hear me read a small excerpt from my novel.) Consider donating to SAFTA’s “Jayne for President” campaign, raising funds needed for a barn at Firefly Farms.
As I celebrate one year as a slightly more active literary citizen, I’m reminded that there is always more we can do to support this community of upstarts and artists and writers who are readers. It’s not just the right thing to do, it is necessary.