“Anything that has the audacity to challenge traditional prose is just absolutely astounding.”
Senior Creative Writing and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies double-major Katy Major interviewed junior Creative Writing and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies double-major Josh Brandon via email over Fall Break.
Q: What are you reading right now?
A: As this semester continues, the difficulty to find my own time to read and write increases. At the moment, I’m the midst of reading and critically analyzing pieces on craft and form — specifically in the genre of personal essay. I’m at the nexus of my two academic passions: Creative Writing and Queer Studies. So, I’m reading pieces that will inspire me to think further on queering genre. Some specific pieces include: “Solipsism” by Ander Monson (as seen in 2008 anthology The Best American Essays) and “Genre-Queer: Notes Against Generic Binaries” by Kazim Ali (from the anthology Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Non-Fiction).
Q: We’ve been reading texts by experimental women writers in Tammy’s class this semester [ENGL 2231, Experimental Women Writers]. Have you enjoyed reading experimental writing? Which writers have been your favorites?
A: Yes! This class has been so challenging — and at times very taxing on the mind — but in the best ways. I’ve noticed that specific experimental influences crop up in other readings/my thoughts on the readings in other classes. I feel that many of the authors we’ve read so far have had a great deal to add to the art of experimental writing (Stein, Woolf and Dickinson, to be exact). Anything that has the audacity to challenge traditional prose is just absolutely astounding. I’d direct anyone who wants to gain a new understanding on what it means to be hypnotized by non-traditional prose to read The Waves by Virginia Woolf. As our professor from our class, Tammy Birk, has iterated many times to us now: “Sit with this meditation on existence — what it means to be — in bursts…like you would with any collection of poetry.”
Q: Your genre is creative nonfiction. What nonfiction writers do you tend to go back to again and again, either for inspiration or for your reading pleasure?
A: I’ll be the first to admit that the authors/works I seek out have become pretty focused on what I can apply to classes. Once the school year fizzles out, I give into the summer entrancement and then find I’ve spent the summer pretty distant from the literary world. I’ve also transitioned from being primarily a creative nonfiction writer to a combination of creative nonfiction and poetry, after taking an intermediate poetry class with Dr. Terry Hermsen. Authors listed on a course syllabus can be just as influential as what you find on your own. In the genres I write, I’ve been drawn to names like Rita Dove, Virginia Woolf, John D’Agata, Phillip Lopate, Joan Didion, Sylvia Plath, Susan Sontag, Mary Oliver, James Wright, and of course, Emily Dickinson. It’s also to note important or influential writing that might exist in other genres — for me, I can attribute influence to fiction writers such as Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood.
Q: How do you find new books to read? Where do you look for recommendations?
A: Many of the new books I’ve been reading, as said before, have come from professor recommendations and course syllabi. I also have many friends who’ve explored various facets of literature and will look into books brought up in conversation and, of course, the ever-present power of social media has given me so much literature to divulge in.
Q: Do you use an e-reading device or your laptop to read? How does this compare to reading books? Do you think that the future of your reading lies in the screen?
A: Only in very specific instances will I use technology to read long works. I don’t own a tablet or e-reader, so my options are limited to my laptop or smart phone (which is especially uncomfortable). I like reading physical copies of books. I like the work I’m reading to be tangential. I like feeling of worn or crisp pages between my fingers. That isn’t to say that’s the only valid way to read. However people can access the literature they love is personal and has a lot of surrounding context, so I don’t discount the various ways to consume text. Maybe one day I’ll be the proud owner of a tablet and can voraciously read any and everything — who knows?
Q: What’s the biggest draw for you when it comes to reading? What keeps you coming back to the written word?
A: The biggest draw (and aversion) to reading, for me, is the insurmountable amount of writing in existence. The world of literature exists parallel to the universe, ever-expanding. It’s intimidating, but at the same time exciting and entrancing. In many ways, access to literature and academia is a privileged one, but reading has been a driving force in how I’ve come to gain knowledge and has greatly shaped my worldview. I try my best to acknowledge a diversity of voices when I read to gain an understanding of the world from people who exist in various facts of life. I also recognize that there are so many other thoughts, feelings and voices our there than I can comprehend. And they’re all a different take on what it means to be. And that’s beautiful.