Firsts: An Interview with Akiko Busch

The Firsts column features Windmill writers talking about their own firsts in both writing and life. Interview conducted by Theresa Pham.

Akiko Busch is the author of How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency, published by Penguin Press in spring 2019. Her previous books include Geography of Home, The Uncommon Life of Common Objects, Nine Ways to Cross a River, and The Incidental Steward. She was a contributing editor at Metropolis Magazine for twenty years, and her essays about design, culture, and nature have appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers, and exhibition catalogues. She has taught at the University of Hartford and Bennington College and currently teaches at Bennington College and the School of Visual Arts. Her work has been recognized by grants from the Furthermore Foundation, NYFA, and Civitella Ranieri. She lives in the Hudson Valley.

Q: What was the first book you ever loved?

A: A book called Mei Li about a young Chinese girl and her encounter with the Kitchen God.

Q: What was the first thing you remember writing?

A: I sat at my father’s desk in Bangkok and pecked out random letters indiscriminately on his typewriter. I don’t know if this counts as writing, but at the time I believed it did.

Q: When was the first time you knew you wanted to be a writer?

A: Always.

Q: When was the first time you felt successful/like a real writer?

A: When I was twenty-three and published a poem titled “An Item of Glass” in a literary quarterly.

Q: What is the first book that made you cry?

A: Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.

Q: How did your first book change your process of writing?

A: I learned to trust the associative process, the way that one thing leads unpredictably to another.

Q: When did you write your first book and how old were you?

A. Geography of Home, a collection of essays I had written for Metropolis magazine, was published in 1999 when I was 45.

Q: What is the first word that pops into your head to describe yourself and why?

A: I would like to think I know myself well enough to know this word, but it seems I do not.

Q: What was your first dream job?

A: Quitting my full-time magazine job.

Q: How did you celebrate your first book?

A: By having dinner with my husband, my two sons, and the Kitchen God.

Akiko Busch’s essay The Geography of Invisibility is forthcoming in the 2019 edition of Windmill.

Firsts: An Interview with Ace Boggess

The Firsts column features Windmill writers talking about their own firsts in both writing and life. Interview conducted by Theresa Pham.

Ace Boggess is both a poet and prose writer. He is the author of the novels A Song Without a Melody (Hyperborea Publishing, 2016) and States of Mercy (forthcoming from Alien Buddha Press). His recent fiction appears in Notre Dame Review, Lumina, and Superstition Review. He received a fellowship in fiction from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and spent five years in a West Virginia prison. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.

Q: What is the first word that pops into your head to describe yourself and why?

A: ‘Terrified.’ I have had unbearable anxieties my entire life. In many ways, they are the cause of my becoming both a writer and an addict.

Q: What was your first dream job?

A: I’ve only had one dream job. In the early 90s, I was a reporter in Huntington. Mostly it involved covering the police beat (for which I don’t fail to see the irony these days) and weekend obits, but I also branched out to cover the local music scene in a time when alternative music was breaking. It was magic to me. It’s the inspiration for my only published novel, A Song Without a Melody.

Q: How did your first book change your process of writing?

A: It didn’t. My first poetry book came out in 2003, and by then I was a drug addict. My writing process revolved around the drugs. I took my dose, read a book until the buzz kicked in, then wrote. My process is essentially the same today—read and then write—just without the dope.

Q: What was the first thing you remember writing? 

A: When I was 11 or 12, I decided I wanted to write an adventure novel about an emerald mine. I wrote the first chapter and then forgot about it. I wrote a lot of first chapters as a teenager.

Q: When was the first time you knew you wanted to be a writer?

A: My sophomore year in college I finished my first novel (not good novel, mind you, but something complete), a horror/fantasy novel that I’m embarrassed to think about. Still, I knew at that point that I had to keep going. That same year I wrote an obnoxious experimental novel, followed the next year by a slapstick comedy (a much-shortened version of which will be published later this year after only a quarter of a century). Then, my writing took a more literary turn and I couldn’t stop. In law school, a professor asked me in class why I went by Ace, and just to say something, I said, “I’m a writer.” He replied, “Well, now you’re a lawyer,” and I said, “No, I’m a writer,” as I looked down at the journal in front of me which already had the first few chapters of my next novel.

Q: When was the first time you felt successful/like a real writer?

A: In ’97, I found an agent for one of my novels. It didn’t sell, but the fact an agent took me on after years of rejections was mind-blowing. Then, around the turn of the millennium, first Notre Dame Review and then Harvard Review accepted poems I’d written. Those were the biggest successes I’d had to that point, and I felt like I was on my way.

Q: How did you celebrate your first book?

A: Oh, that was one of the most fun nights of my life. I premiered the book at my home-away-from-home, a bar/restaurant called Calamity Café in Huntington, West Virginia. In order to build the audience, after the reading, I hosted a poetry slam, took the sign-up list and, as I read each name, introduced the poets with bizarre, fanciful bios that I made up on the spot. We had a lot of laughs, and I sold a lot of books—two of my favorite things. What a wonderful evening.

Ace Boggess’ short story Embraced by Every Atom of the Universe is forthcoming in the 2019 edition of Windmill.

Poet | Translator Raquel Lanseros

Raquel Lanseros among the olive trees.

The Windmill Profile: Raquel Lanseros

By Ashrena Ali

Hofstra’s MFA in Creative Writing now offers a concentration in Spanish, underscoring the program’s focus on the writer in the world and fusing literary scholarship and intensive instruction in various genres: fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction.

MFA Director Miguel-Angel Zapata recently invited poet and translator Raquel Lanseros to his class, where she illuminated the importance of reading different authors from varying countries. Lanseros is one of Spain’s most significant voices in contemporary Spanish poetry. Her own work has been translated into numerous languages and she is recognized by nearly 200 critics from more than 100 universities as the most relevant poet in the Spanish language born after 1970. Ms. Lanseros demonstrates that a well-cultivated acquaintance and foundation of languages paired with writing is important in establishing yourself as a recognized voice. Some important awards include the Antonio Machado prize in Baeza, the Prize of the Train, as well as the Unicaja Poetry Prize. She obtained her PhD in Language and Literature Didactics, Master in Social Communication, and BA in English Philology. She’s also published many books, including Diary of a Flash, The Eyes of the Fog, and The Small Spines Are Small.

Currently, Raquel Lanseros is the official translator into Spanish for the European project Pop Science, and a permanent member of the literary-theatrical project Children of Mary Shelley, which brings together poets, novelists, musicians, and playwrights.

Take a look at one of her poems, first in Spanish and then in English!

2059

He imaginado siempre el día de mi muerte.

Incluso en la niñez, cuando no existe.

Soñaba un fin heroico de planetas en línea.

Cambiar por Rick mi puesto, quedarme en Casablanca

sumergirme en un lago junto a mi amante enfermo

caer como miliciana en una guerra

cuyo idioma no hablo.

Siempre quise una muerte a la altura de la vida.

Dos mil cincuenta y nueve.

Las flores nacen con la mitad de pétalos

ejércitos de zombis ocupan las aceras.

Los viejos somos muchos

somos tantos

que nuestro peso arquea la palabra futuro.

Cuentan que olemos mal, que somos egoístas

que abrazamos

con la presión exacta de un grillete.

Estoy sola en el cuarto.

Tengo ojos sepultados y movimientos lentos

como una tarde fría de domingo.

Dientes muy blancos adornan a estos hombres.

No sonríen ni amenazan: son estatuas.

Aprisionan mis húmeros quebradizos de anciana.

No va a doler, tranquila.

Igual que un animal acorralado

muerdo el aire, me opongo, forcejeo,

grito mil veces el nombre de mi madre.

Mi resistencia choca contra un silencio higiénico.

Hay excesiva luz y una jeringa llena.

Tenéis suerte, -mi extenuación aúlla-,

si estuviera mi madre

jamás permitiría que me hicierais esto.

2059

I have always imagined the day of my death.

Even in childhood, when it does not exist.

I dreamed a heroic end of planets online.

To change my position for Rick, to stay in Casablanca to

submerge myself in a lake with my sick lover to

fall as a militiaman in a war

whose language I do not speak.

I always wanted a death at the height of life.

Two thousand and fifty-nine.

The flowers are born with half petals

armies of zombies occupy the sidewalks.

The old are many

we are so many

that our weight arches the future word.

They say that we smell bad, that we are selfish, that we

embrace

with the exact pressure of a shackle.

I’m alone in the room.

I have buried eyes and slow movements

like a cold Sunday afternoon.

Very white teeth adorn these men.

They do not smile or threaten: they are statues.

They snap my brittle old folks.

It will not hurt, calm.

Just as a cornered animal

bites the air, I oppose, struggle,

cry a thousand times the name of my mother.

My resistance collides against a hygienic silence.

There is excessive light and a full syringe.

You’re lucky, “my exhaustion howls,”

if my mother were, she would

never allow you to do this to me.

Great Writers and What They’re Reading: Jenny Bhatt

by Alyssa Ennis

This interview series is meant to focus on the interactions between reading and writing through the lens of three Spring 2017 Windmill authors. The Windmill editorial staff hopes you enjoy this glimpse into the reading habits and writerly inspirations of our talented contributors.

Continue reading “Great Writers and What They’re Reading: Jenny Bhatt”

Great Writers and What They’re Reading: Laura Gill

By Alyssa Ennis

This interview series is meant to focus on the interactions between reading and writing through the lens of three Spring 2017 Windmill authors. The Windmill editorial staff hopes you enjoy this glimpse into the reading habits and writerly inspirations of our talented contributors.

 

Laura Gill has recently completed her MFA at Bennington College and has been published previously in the Blue Mesa Review. Laura’s piece in the upcoming edition of Windmill, Disorder, is an excellent creative nonfiction piece about growing up and dealing with hardships both real and imagined. Be sure to check it out when the magazine arrives in May!

 

What book have you read recently that you would recommend to people who enjoyed your piece in Windmill?

Laura Gill: What comes to mind is The Balloonists by Eula Biss. It  isn’t a book I read very recently, but it is a book that repeatedly came up when I was workshopping drafts of “Disorder.” While the pieces are different in numerous ways, they are similar (at least I hope) in the bringing together of various memories and anecdotes to construct a kind of whole. I look up to all of Biss’s work, but “The Balloonists” is most directly about her relationship to her family’s narrative(s), and I think if that was something about “Disorder” that resonated for a reader, they might appreciate “The Balloonists” in particular.

 

Is there a book or other piece of writing that inspired you to become a writer yourself?

LG: From a young age, I was told I was “not a reader,” and for a long time, I was convinced it was true, in part because I could never answer this type of question. In many ways, what first inspired me to write were stories from my friends and family—I liked real life, and the storytelling within it. One of my first “stories” was about four of my friends and how their distinct relationships to their parents impacted their lives. While my first inspiration has been the stories of the people I know and love, I have certainly found an altogether different kind of inspiration in the craft of communicating those stories in beautiful, surprising and poignant ways. After a lull in writing post-college, it was Anne Carson’s The Glass Essay that reignited my love for language. While the discovery came later in life, it was nevertheless the spark I needed to get back to the page. Telling stories with friends is wonderful and all, but it’s in the working to translate those stories to some kind of narrative that the purpose comes through.  

 

Since Windmill is a literary magazine, what short fiction/nonfiction/poetry would you recommend? Do you have a favorite short literary work?

LG: Tough questions! So many options! I’ll go with the first of each that came to mind. The first story was James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”— it’s incredible to me how much of a world we get in such a small amount of space, and I love how patient Baldwin is in building us to an ending that feels as moving as any novel’s. The first poem was Marie Howe’s, “The Gate,” about her late brother, and one of their interactions before his death; within one distilled, and rather mundane gesture, she captures an entire relationship and her grief in the loss of it. The first piece of nonfiction was Meghan Daum’s piece, “Difference Maker,” about her ambivalence toward motherhood, and her experience with what she refers to as the “Central Sadness.” The essay is a part of her collection “Unspeakable,” which exposes the truths we’d prefer not to speak about, and the ways in which our silences can wreak havoc on not just us but our relationships with one another.

 

What are you currently reading?

LG: I’m currently reading Middlemarch and Mary Gaitskill’s new book of essays: Somebody with a Little Hammer. I haven’t yet made it very far in either, but I have a feeling that the pairing could be fruitful—in each, the authors investigate the societal constructs that are both the current and undercurrents of their lives.

 

Is there an aspect of reading that you feel helps you improve as a writer?

LG: Every aspect of reading helps me improve as a writer—whether it’s a book I can barely get through or a book I’m devouring, I find the act of reading is integral to the way I write and the topics I feel compelled to write about. As I mentioned, I was not a kid who read all the time and even now, I find I am consistently behind many of my friends in terms of the volume of texts I read. I think it’s in part because I don’t see reading as entertainment so much as I see it as work. That doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable for me and that I am in some way “above” that component of reading, but when I am reading, I am often considering what is happening on the page, and it’s hard for me to turn off the side of me that either does or doesn’t want to write in that way. I remember my mother giving me Anne Fadiman’s book Ex Libris—I loved the first page so much that my first response was “I want to do this,” and then my second response was jealousy. I find jealousy to be essential to my life as a reader and a writer, and while many people have told me the jealousy is a base and useless emotion, I think it’s been a valuable guide for me to knowing what I want to accomplish and how I might be able to do so.

 

Do you have a favorite book? What do you say to convince people to read it?

LG: I realize this may appear like a cop out, but the honest answer would be that I don’t have a favorite book. I have always wanted to be a person who did, but I find certain books compel me at different times, and I’m aware of of that fact when I go to recommending or convincing people to read those books. There are a few books I find myself recommending often because I think they changed me in some way, and those are: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion, Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss, and The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems. To me, these texts are linked by possibility—to read any of them is to see just what language can do.

What’s next on your to-read list?

LG: Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things is next on my list!