- Firstly, huge congratulations on receiving the Dylan Thomas prize! Can you tell us a bit about what being shortlisted for this prize means to you?
–The prize is a necessary boost in confidence. This book is my first attempt, after many false starts, in fiction writing. I never once stepped into a fiction workshop—so to see the book gain this sort of recognition has been a surprising delight.
- How did you find the experience of writing your shortlisted work? Was it a difficult process and what inspired the story?
–It was arduous at first. Coming from poetry, you’re used to getting the satisfaction of completing a project much sooner. So I had to recalibrate my expectations when it came to the novel, I had to slow down, develop a marathon strategy, and commit myself to slow, dedicated, and steady work. It was a very useful education in being a prose writer. As for inspiration, I was inspired mostly by working class New England culture post 9/11.
- The prize celebrates young authors, is this something that you think is important? Do you find being a younger author poses challenges?
–Prizes can be helpful because they create excitement and interest around literature via an organizing principle, in this case a writer under 40. They are not master-rubrics of ultimate literary merit—but then again, what is? What’s valuable, then, is that a prize serves as a collective attempt at celebrating literature. Personally, I think it would be interesting to celebrate a swath of books without having a just single winner—but maybe that’s why there are many prizes, many ways to see books from myriad angles.
- When did you start writing and can you share a bit about what inspired your current path?
—I started writing at Community College when my friend, who was in a punk band, introduced me to Rimbaud, whom he said inspired his lyrics.
- Does your writing have any central focuses or themes and what encourages you to explore these?
–There are most likely reoccurring themes through my work, much of which are informed by who I am, my “identities”, whether they’re evident or oblique. But when I’m writing, those themes or regions of knowledge are not present, or rather, I don’t consciously write towards them; I write openly, propelled by curiosity above all else, knowing they will manifest either way.
- This prize has had some amazing winners in the past, have you had any particular influences in your writing until this point?
–Max Porter is a previous winner and is one of those evergreen writers who I think new generations will re-discover decades down the line. I also love Annie Dillard, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Anne Carson, Gwendolyn Brooks, Walter Benjamin, and loads of Russian writers: Babel, Leskov, Akhmatova, Mandelstam. Jia Tolentino is also ace. Hoa Nguyen, Natalie Diaz, Eduardo C. Corral, Ben Lerner, Scott McClanahan, Hieu Minh Nguyen, so many.
- Dylan Thomas is widely considered one of the most important Welsh poets of his time. His heritage was a pervasive theme in his work, do you think that where you are from echoes in your writing?
–Yes, regional and cultural influences are inescapable influences on one’s writing. I think of Faulkner’s Mississippi, Morrison’s Ohio, Didion’s California, Babel’s Russia, etc. Likewise, I think the great excitement for any writer is to actually render an “updated” version of their region or milieu, to participate in a lineage of literary mapmaking.
- Can you give us any updates on anything new that you are working on, is there anything in the making?
–I’m trying to write a short story. And I’m trying to make cornbread. Also learning to skateboard. Trying to plant something in the ground and not have it die in a month, etc.
- And, just for fun, if you could have dinner with any literary figure from any time period, who would it be and why?
–Isaac Babel, whose Red Calvary is a perennial masterwork. As a survivor of war and a writer who chronicled and created out of huge geopolitical upheaval at the turn of the 20th century, I think I would learn a lot from Mr. Babel. I think we would have a lot in common, but also have so many differences to be gained and learned from.
- We are currently living in a strange time, are there any books that you would recommend to inspire hope in this period?
–Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald, Adrienne Rich’s Selected Essays, Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong, Mythologies by Roland Barthes, Cooling Time by C.D. Wright.