Seven Questions

Seven Questions for Aisha Sabatini Sloan

In Seven Questions, we interview writers, editors, designers, and others in publishing. Today, we speak with Aisha Sabatini Sloan, a writer, curator, and artist. She joins us in the UNCW Department of Creative Writing this semester as a visiting professor of creative nonfiction.

Sabatini Sloan writes on race and current events, interweaving personal experience with analysis of art and pop culture. Maggie Nelson selected her second essay collection, Dreaming of Ramadi in Detroit, for the 1913 Open Prose Contest, and Graywolf Press recently released it in a revised edition. She has also won the CLMP Firecracker Award and the National Magazine Award for Columns and Commentary, as well as the Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Nonfiction and the Jeanne Córdova Award for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction for her essay “Borealis.” Sabatini Sloan is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in creative writing, and her work has earned recognition in Best American Essays and Best American Nonrequired Reading. Her writing appears in the New York Times, the Paris Review, and Guernica, among many other places. Her essay “D Is for the Dance of the Hours,” originally published in Ecotone, is anthologized in Lookout Books’ Trespass: Ecotone Essayists Beyond the Boundaries of Place, Identity, and Feminism. 

Lookout staffer Laurie Clark interviewed Aisha Sabatini Sloan in spring 2024.

 

What do you look forward to experiencing while at UNC Wilmington? 

Seeing everyone I’m in class with who are now like celebrities to me. Now that it’s spring, I’m excited to look at what people are growing, especially after hearing everyone in my class talk about their gardening adventures. Being in a warm place. The beach! 

You grew up in Los Angeles, though you have family roots in Detroit, where you’ve also spent significant time over the years. How have these two different landscapes shaped your voice as a writer?  

Detroit has a mythological dimension for me because it is where I encountered all of my most recently departed ancestors and where my parents met and had their artistic awakenings. My parents met at the public library in the late sixties. All of their friends were these children of the Great Migration or of immigrants who were rejecting war and charting a path into a larger world. Choreographers and musicians and Franciscans. The physicality of Detroit is so symphonic and grandiose, Diego Court at the DIA, the opera house—there is all this very oldworld architecture. And my family is full of vivid storytellers. Whereas Los Angeles was all about possibility and newness. A futuristic place with beaches and skyscrapers and Hollywood and the cityscape is like holographic images floating in space. Being away from my family made me especially curious about it, which is where my writing started with this attempt to engage in this larger family myth-making endeavor. And even being in LA made me feel like I was far away from everything while also being in the center of something. My dad always talks about seeing things through a prism, and LA functioned a bit like that; it became this lens, a place through which I saw other places. And my writing has that tendency to look through things at other things and be nowhere and everywhere.  

Samiya Bashir describes your work in Borealis as a combination of “glacial blocks of white space” and “collaging of art, literature, correspondence, music, overheards, skylight colors.” Can you talk about how you approach scenes, images, and ideas when crafting a hybrid form? 

I spent as much time taking studio art classes in high school, college, and graduate school as I did studying writing, literature, and cultural criticism. So I often use art as part of the drafting process for writing. I play a lot with media, I print things and cut them up and put them on note cards and place them all around the room, I make collages, I teach classes where we bake things or make dioramas or music videos. I find this all helpful to see what I’m trying to make sense of, what I’m dancing inside. I have trouble mapping things out in a straight, linear document; but if I create a map or a scavenger hunt, I can start to see connections and visualize structure and see my ideas more easily.

In a recent interview, you discuss how much poets like Jane Miller were instrumental in shaping your aesthetic. What tools does poetry offer to a creative nonfiction writer? 

Yes, Jane Miller’s Midnights made a big impact, seeing how much could be distilled into a prose poem, how smooth entry into the past can be productively disrupted by the frame of the present. Also, how you can use a similar sense of rhythm in an essay’s structure as with something like a sestina, playing with sentence structure and repetition so that you build toward a final feeling. Another of the best courses I took in grad school was a nonfiction class where all of the books were about war, taught by the poet Barbara Cully. Even though we were thinking about a very grave reality, she included all of these mediums and genres in the reading list: Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, an image/text work; Safe Area Goražde, a graphic novel by Joe Sacco; The War by Marguerite Duras. I felt like we were being invited to consider that artistic experimentation is required to tell the story so that it can be heard. I also worked with Beth Alvarado, a nonfiction writer who engages other genres in really fascinating, organic ways. Her book Anthropologies is a memoir in fragments, almost prose poems, and the concision and lyricism of that book really blew something open for me. I don’t identify with nonfiction that reads like a long, boring lecture. Cully and Miller and Alvarado were suggesting to me that the essay could be more like a gong bath or a protest or a song.  

What can you tell us about The Lester Essays, a current project that you tease as “A podcast? A documentary? A pizza pie? Coming soon . . .”? 

I have been filming my father, who is a photographer, for a few years—interviewing him, following him to exhibits in the South of France, around a festival in Italy, in search of Richard Wright in Paris. And at some point, I’d like to do something with that footage.  

At Lookout, we’re always eager to highlight emerging authors. Can you tell us about a debut book you’re excited about?   

Erica N. Cardwell’s Wrong Is Not My Name is fantastic; that’s a debut essay collection that just came out with Feminist Press. I’m also excited to check out The Wet Wound by Maddie Norris and Speculative Histories by Brigitte Lewis. These aren’t debuts, but I loved the essay collection My Withered Legs by Sandra Gail Lambert, and I’m excited to read Poupeh Missaghi’s newest book, Sound Museum. 

Lightning Round 

Coffee shop or library? Coffee shop. I need some noise.
Ocean or forest? Today, ocean. But it’s close.
Road trip or hike? Road trip
Podcast or radio? Depends where I am. I love public radio in Detroit and Los Angeles, but podcasts are kind of a constant.
Highlight or underline?  Underline. Unsteady underline.
Hardcover or paperback?  Paper
Coffee or tea?  Coffee

Seven Questions (+1) for Michelle Donahue

Today in Seven Questions, we introduce Ecotone associate editor Michelle Donahue. In addition to editing, Michelle writes fiction and has published essays and poems. Her prose has been supported by the Kentucky Foundation for Women and has been published in Arts & Letters, CutBank, Porterhouse Review, Passages North, and others. She received an MFA in creative writing & environment from Iowa State and a PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Utah. Before joining Ecotone in August 2022, she was an editor for Quarterly West, the Adroit Journal, and Flyway: Journal of Writing & Environment.

Michelle is a generous and energetic editor and a fabulous writer (not to mention a surfer and a brewer of beer). We are delighted to welcome her to the Ecotone team!

Co–fiction editor Becca Hannigan interviewed Michelle in fall 2022.

Michelle DonahueAs you settle in to Wilmington and your new roles at Ecotone and in the creative writing department, what do you find most exciting?

I’m most excited by the real commitment to community here. Everyone has been so welcoming, and it’s clear that people are interested in building a nourishing publishing, teaching, and writing environment. I’m honored to be a new member of such a beautiful ecosystem of writers, teachers, students, and editors.

Your degrees are in creative writing and literature as well as Could you share a specific experience, class, or conversation that’s carried you along? To what extent do you view your work as a writer and editor through a scientific lens?

When I was an undergraduate, I spent a semester studying on San Cristóbal Island in the Galápagos. It was such a unique experience that I’ve since tried to write about it, but always fail to capture it, with all of its strange beauty and contradictions. On the one hand, I spent my days lounging on the beach with sea lions who were wholly unafraid of humans. I watched blue-footed boobies perform their goofy mating rituals; I swam with green sea turtles, marine iguanas, manta rays, and reef sharks. It was unreal. But on the other hand, the Galápagos is a brutal, volcanic place, where the equatorial sun can burn unprotected skin in minutes. It’s a place where tourists who come to appreciate the unique life and landscape are also responsible for endangering its existence. I simultaneously loved every second of being there and felt guilty about my presence. I like this idea of an experience “carrying you along,” and my time in the Galápagos certainly has stayed with me in ways that are mollifying and maddening, celebratory and sad.

I think my background in science has changed the way I see the world, which I’m sure has affected the way I write and edit. In science, I was always drawn most to ecology, a discipline that focuses on relationships between the big and small, living and non-living. As a writer and editor, I’m interested in connections, in bringing the macro and the micro together.

You’ve worked as the managing editor for Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment as well as prose editor for Quarterly West and the Adroit Journal. How and when did you know you wanted to pursue editorial work?

As a younger writer, I wanted to be as involved as possible in any and every good literary community I could find. Editorial work seemed like such a tremendous opportunity to contribute and give back to the literary community, while learning about writing and publishing. Once I started with Flyway, I knew I’d found a lifelong passion.

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Seven Questions for Siobahn Daugherty

We’re excited to introduce the newest member of the Ecotone-Lookout team, administrative associate Siobahn Daugherty. If you’re a contributor to the magazine or to the imprint’s forthcoming anthology, Bigger Than Bravery, you have might have heard from Siobahn already!

Siobahn graduated from UNC Wilmington last year with a BFA in creative writing and a certificate in publishing. During her time in UNCW’s writing and publishing program, she served as the fiction editor for Seabreeze: A Literary Diaspora, the school’s first Black literary magazine, and as fiction editor for the student magazine Atlantis.

Lookout staffer and recent BFA and publishing-certificate graduate Lauran Jones had the chance to talk with Siobahn about her first few months on the job.

As you begin your work with Ecotone and Lookout Books, what most excites you?
The tight-knit-ness of both Ecotone and Lookout Books. It’s a very respectful and exciting work environment. I love how both organizations are writer focused and are willing to expand what good literature reads like and what good authors look like—things I feel most creative industries are very behind in.

You earned your certificate in publishing at UNC Wilmington, the parent institution for Lookout and Ecotone. Could you speak to a specific experience or class that helped prepare you for your position? Is there an area of expertise that you most look forward to bringing to the team?
Anna Lena’s editorial process class, as well as my work with both Atlantis and Seabreeze, helped prepare me for this position. Seabreeze and Atlantis gave me experience working with contributors and maneuvering the ever-changing needs of publishing. Anna Lena’s class assisted me with further fine-tuning my communication and editorial skills. An area of expertise I’m excited to bring to the team is how quickly I pick up new software. It’s healthy for my ego when I amaze people by showing them things they can do on a computer that neither they nor I knew about an hour ago.

Are there Lookout titles, issues of Ecotone, or pieces we’ve published that particularly inspire you?
Yes, of course! A piece from Ecotone I enjoy and think about often is Jennifer Tseng’s “Most of My Dream Fathers Are Women,” from the Love Issue. From Lookout Books, I adore Cameron Dezen Hammon’s This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession. I love how both works tackle grief and womanhood.

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Seven Questions (+1) for Sophia Stid

Today in Seven Questions, we talk with Ecotone postgraduate fellow Sophia Stid. Sophia recently received the 2021 Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Prize, from Calyx magazine, and the 2022 Sally Buckner Emerging Writers’ Fellowship, from the North Carolina Writers’ Network. Her micro-chapbook Whistler’s Mother was published by Bull City Press in October 2021. Her work has also been supported by fellowships from Vanderbilt University and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and her recent work can be found in Best New Poets, Poetry Daily, and Pleiades.

Book cover for Sophia Stid's Whistler's MotherSophia has worked on Ecotone for the past two-plus years, and was recently promoted to associate editor. Her keen editorial sensibility, and her equally keen attention to both place and the artists and writers who consider it, are a gift to the magazine. Though some on Ecotone’s staff may quibble with her choice, in the lightning round below, of pie over cake, her editorial and writerly decision making is indisputably exemplary—wise, nuanced, thoughtful, kind. We are lucky to have her as part of the Ecotone team. Editor Anna Lena Phillips Bell interviewed her in fall 2021.

As you begin your third year with Ecotone, what are you excited about in your work?

I’m really excited about the Climate Issue, which we’re putting together right now—and Ecotone 30, which will reach subscribers and newsstands in the next week. The questions we’re holding as an editorial team are difficult and important: how to walk with hope and grief and rage at once, how to work for change while mourning what we’ve already lost. Carrying these questions in community with our contributors has already shaped my thinking and my living.

What’s something you’ve discovered in editing that surprised you or helped your own writing?

I’m surprised by how often it seems that when I have questions for a piece of writing as an editor, the work itself will hold a phrase or idea that guides the editorial team through those questions. I’ve learned so much from that about trusting the work itself to teach me how to write it.

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Seven (+1) Questions for Cameron Dezen Hammon

Today in Seven Questions, we talk to Cameron Dezen Hammon, whose debut memoir This Is My Body: A Memoir of Romantic and Religious Obsession was recently released by Lookout Books. Kirkus calls it “a generous and unflinchingly brave memoir about faith, feminism, and freedom,” and the Millions adds, “Hammon explores motherhood, her relationship with her husband, her infidelity, and her growing sense of her own feminism. Her strikingly contemporary reflections about her treatment in conservative churches . . . make her story a salient one for this particular moment, in the wake of the #MeToo Movement.” 

Hammon’s writing appears in The Kiss anthology from W. W. Norton, Catapult, Ecotone, the Houston Chronicle, the Literary Review, NYLON, and elsewhere; and her essay “Infirmary Music” was noted in The Best American Essays 2017. She earned an MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University and is currently a writer-in-residence for Writers in the Schools in Houston.

Why was it important to publish this book now? How do you hope This Is My Body will enrich the conversation, especially around #metoo and #churchtoo?

I think women who have experienced sexual assault and harassment in a church context are hungry for stories that speak directly to their experience. There’s something particularly egregious about someone using spiritual authority to harm, and we need to talk about this.

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Seven Questions for Rachel Z. Arndt

In Seven Questions, we interview writers, editors, designers, and others in publishing. Today, we interview Rachel Z. Arndt, whose essay “Wind” is forthcoming in Ecotone 25. She received MFAs in nonfiction and poetry from the University of Iowa, where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow and nonfiction editor of the Iowa Review. Her writing appears in Popular Mechanics, Quartz, Pank, Fast Company, and elsewhere. She lives in Chicago. Her essay collection Beyond Measure, comes out this week from Sarabande.

Your book, Beyond Measure, is an exploration of the rituals, routines, metrics, and expectations through which we attempt to quantify and ascribe value to our lives. Do you practice any rituals when it comes to your writing, and if so, what can you share with us about them? 

I’m militant about the pens I write with: Uni-ball Vision Exact micro (in black). The problem is these pens were discontinued years ago, which I started to realize—and deny—the last year I lived in New York. Toward the tail end of that year, after I decided to move halfway across the country for grad school, I checked my Ziploc-bagged stash, saw I was running low, and went online. I scoured office supply stores, specialty writing utensil stores, and school supply stores. No dice. So I went to eBay and ordered maybe thirty of them. As long as they got me through school, I told myself, I’d be fine. They did.

I’m also pretty militant about my notebooks: blank 5-inch by 8.25-inch Moleskines. Lines distract me. Plus, I pride myself on being able to write in straight lines, a skill I’ve been perfecting since middle school math class. If the writing’s no good, at least it looks good.

These are, I realize, coping mechanisms for dealing with writers’ block and crankiness and off days when everything comes out clunky and abstract. They are coping mechanisms, that is, for the loss of control that’s inherently part of writing—a loss that’s strange, given nonfiction’s adherence to hard and fast facts, but a loss that makes sense when you think of writing less as translating the world to text and more as translating one’s experience of the world to text.

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Seven Questions for Alexis Pauline Gumbs

In Seven Questions, we interview writers, editors, designers, and others in publishing. Today, we interview Alexis Pauline Gumbs, whose work, Map of Anguilla, BWI. Handed to Alexis Pauline Gumbs by Jeremiah Gumbs. appears in Ecotone 23. She is the granddaughter of Anguillian revolutionaries Jeremiah and Lydia Gumbs, and the author of Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity, the coeditor of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines, and the founder of the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind, based in Durham, North Carolina. Her book M Archive: After the End of the World —the second book in a planned experimental triptych—is a series of poetic artifacts that speculatively documents the persistence of Black life following a worldwide cataclysm. It comes out this week from Duke University Press.

If you could spend a year writing anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I would spend the year in Anguilla. There is something about being able to hear the ocean twenty-four hours a day that helps me write from a deeper place. Anguilla specifically is a place where I can hear the guidance of my ancestors more loudly and clearly than anywhere I’ve been because of my own ancestral and family connection to the island. Once I spent a month writing in Anguilla and it was profound. The whole time, I wrote thank-you poems to Black feminist thinkers who have contributed to my life with their work and their living. That wasn’t the plan, and each of those poems was really for an audience of one person, but it is some of the most necessary writing I have ever done.

What books are open on your desk right now?
Interdependence: Biology and Beyond by Kriti Sharma (a brilliant North Carolina writer, scientist, and beloved friend) an issue of “Artists and Influence” (a serial publication by Camille Billops and James Hatch) “Who Set You Flowin’?”: The African American Migration Narrative by Farah Jasmine Griffin…(My beloved teacher and intellectual mother, I read her books on perpetual rotation.) Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief (edited by Cindy Milstien). The Gift is in the Making by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. And The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemison and A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle are on my bed; my partner and I are reading those two aloud.

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Seven Questions for Angela Ledgerwood

In Seven Questions, we interview writers, editors, designers, and others in publishing. Today we talk to Angela Ledgerwood, host of the popular literary podcast Lit Up, a weekly conversation with some of the world’s most celebrated writers. She’s chatted with Ann Patchett, Maggie Nelson, and Colson Whitehead, with episodes featuring Trevor Noah, Affinity Konar, and Jade Chang on the way. Ledgerwood is also Cosmopolitan’s Books Editor-at-Large, where she’s  interviewed some of her favorite women including Senator Elizabeth Warren, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and her writing has appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Marie Claire, Interview, and more.

credit-sidney-benson

(Photo credit Sidney Benson)

What books are open on your desk right now?

Siri Hustvedt’s upcoming book, A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind and a galley of The Idiot by New Yorker staff writer Elif Batuman. It’s described as a portrait of the artist as a young woman, so I’m intrigued. Human Acts by Han Kang coming out in early ‘17 is there too.

Who is your dream podcast guest, living or dead?

Siri Hustvedt. That dream is coming true later this month. I’ve been amazed by her intellect and the breadth of her knowledge about art, neuroscience, and psychology for many years. My ultimate wish would be to witness Siri, the artist Louise Bourgeois, and Charles Dickens chatting amongst themselves. I’d simply be a fly on the wall.

What emerging author or first book are you most excited about?

I’m eager to read Julie Buntin’s debut novel Marlena, about two girls who go feral and embark on a year that explodes their lives.

the-womanName a book you bought for its cover.

The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir—I’ve still not read it because I think I’m afraid of what I’ll find inside. I look at it daily—one day I’ll take the plunge.

If you could spend a year writing anywhere in the world, where would it be?

A quiet spot overlooking the ocean on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. I’ve never been, but in my fantasy I’d wake early to write and drink coffee from a room overlooking the ocean. A daily swim and walk would be mandatory. As would limited internet.

What strategies do you have for encouraging writers to open up on Lit Up?

I was given excellent advice from a dispute resolution specialist about how to get people to relax in certain situations. Not that the writers I have on are in conflict with me, I hope! Building a rapport begins with eye contact and touch. Often having a casual chat about what’s going on in the world to break the ice is helpful, as is trying to find common ground early in the conversation. I never start with the most personal questions. I have to get a sense of who the person is in front of me and what they’re comfortable with before I delve more deeply.

Lightning round:

Typing or longhand? Typing for work, longhand for pleasure.

Morning or night? Morning.

Coffee or tea? Both!

Beer or wine? Wine.

Mountains or sea? Sea.

Hardcover or paperback? Paperback.

Novel or short story? Novel.

Highlight or underline? Underline.

Seven Questions for Steven Church

img_4064In Seven Questions, we interview writers, editors, designers, and others in publishing. Today, we interview Steven Church, whose fiction “Exhibit #8: The Peach Pit Rodeo Half-Time Show (Temporarily Out of Order)” appeared in Ecotone Issue 5 (available to subscribers in the archive). He is the author of The Guinness Book of Me: a Memoir of Record, Theoretical Killings: Essays and Accidents, The Day After The Day After: My Atomic Angst, and Ultrasonic: Essays, and has published in Brevity, The Rumpus, AGNI, Colorado Review, and Creative Nonfiction, among others.

The Normal School is approaching its tenth year. As its co-founder and nonfiction editor, what has surprised you in your work there over the past decade?

Honestly, I’m often surprised it’s still alive and kicking. I mean, when we started the magazine we were ridiculously ambitious, but I’m not sure any of us could’ve imagined that, nearly ten years in, it would have the national reputation that it has, particularly in nonfiction. The best, most surprising thing, though, are the regular surprises I get as an editor. It’s just really fun to discover an essay in my “to read” pile that just blows me away; and I feel extremely lucky to get the opportunity to help shepherd the writing of others into the world.

Name a book you bought for its cover.

I don’t know if I bought it for its cover, but Nick Flynn’s first memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, with that title and the strikingly cool black and green first cover for the book, with the tree, really appealed to me. I still like looking at it. I’m still bummed they reissued it with a new title and cover.

img_3616Your fifth book of nonfiction, One with the Tiger: Sublime and Violent Encounters between Humans and Animals, comes out November 15. It explores the liminal space separating being human and being animal. What fascinates you about the distinction, or lack there of, between us?

I supposed one of the things that fascinates me about the distinction between human and animal is that, like genre in literature, it is both meaningless AND meaningful. It’s a boundary that shifts depending on the circumstances and our desires; and perhaps it’s a boundary that is drawn most sharply in moments of inter-species violence and savagery (also true with genre). Maybe the biggest difference between us is that humans have a more expansive morality, shaped by considerations beyond survival; and in these sublime moments of violence, that expansiveness collapses and we are faced with only one morality—the morality, or lack thereof, that a grizzly bear or a tiger lives by. The book takes the story of David Villalobos as a jumping off point for a consideration of what it means to not only court a violent interaction with an apex predator and the desire to “cross over,” but also what it means to obsess over these archetypal stories of savagery.

If you could adopt an animal you’ve encountered in literature, which one would you choose and why?

That’s a tough one, but I’d probably have to go with Frightful, the peregrine falcon from the novel, My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, if only because of the nostalgic place that book holds in my heart. I loved the book as a kid and was inspired by it to live in the woods some day with my own pet falcon. It sounds silly, but I wasn’t alone. The protagonist of the novel, Sam Gribley, leaves his family home in NYC voluntarily and retreats to the woods in upstate New York to live off the land. Growing up in the 70s and the Reagan 80s, this kind of escape from the wider world seemed like a pretty good plan.

When do you feel most confident as a writer?

I mean, it’s nice to see your work in print. It feels good. But I’m not sure there’s a bigger rush of confidence or excitement than what I feel when I think I’ve nailed a great sentence. I’ve been known to fist-pump and whoop to myself when I get it right, when the words seem to do exactly as I want them to. These are often rare and fleeting moments, but I think they’re the reason I keep going.

You have a superpower: You can immediately give to every person on earth one piece of information. What is it?

I’m not sure that’s a superpower. It feels more like a curse . . . ONE piece of “information”? I’m waffling between a return to the existentialists (i.e. God is dead, radical subjectivity and freedom, etc.) or a return to 80s pop culture (i.e. primarily quotes from the movie, Red Dawn), both of which seem oddly relevant to our current political climate. So let’s go with a mash-up of the two: “God is dead, we’re all radically subjective humans responsible for making meaning and morality, and all that hate is gonna burn you up, even if does keep you warm inside. Wolverines!”

Lightning round:

Coffee or Tea? Coffee, of course. Now, please.

Morning or night? Morning.

Typing or longhand? Sadly, typing now . . . but there was a time when all first drafts were longhand.

Earthquakes or hurricanes? Earthquakes.

Music or quiet? Music.

Highlight or underline? Underline.

Bookmark or dog-ear? Dog-ear (even if I scold my kids for doing it)

Steven Church is also the Founding Editor and Nonfiction Editor of The Normal School. If you’re not reading and submitting, get with it. This fantastic literary magazine, a staple on bookshelves for almost a decade, coming out of California State University at Fresno, where Steven teaches in the MFA program. In anticipation of his new book of nonfiction, One with the Tiger: Sublime and Violent Encounters between Humans and Animal, we tracked down Steven for a Seven Questions. One with the Tiger hits shelves Nov. 8, 2016.

Seven Questions for Erik Reece

In Seven Questions, we interview writers, editors, designers, and others in publishing. Today, we feature Erik Reece, whose story, “A Week on the Kentucky River: Reading Henry David Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Which Nobody Reads Anymore (But Should)“ appears in Ecotone’s tenth anniversary issue. Reece’s work also appears in Harper’s magazine, the Nation, and Orion. He is the author of two books of nonfiction and one collection of poetry. His book Utopia Drive, about the promise, failure, and enduring visions of utopian communities throughout U.S. history, is forthcoming form Farrar, Straus and Giroux in August.

Erik Reece - photo - taken by Lee Thomas

(photo by Lee Thomas)

What books are open on your desk right now?

Thomas More’s Utopia, because this year is its five-hundredth anniversary and I’m supposed to write something about that. Joseph Stroud’s excellent collected poems, Of This World. Robert Bullard’s Dumping In Dixie. A few old notebooks.

Apart from the week you spent on the Kentucky River and the boat you built, are there other ways you have attempted to bring aspects of Thoreau’s life into your own?

I raise a large garden and I know how to make raisin bread.

Where did the idea for your essay in Ecotone come from?

Honestly, I just wanted to find a way to get more people to read that book. And I think I was looking for a way to write about the poetry of wooden boats, and wooden boat-making. I was rereading A Week when I was building my boat, and I’m sure the idea for the essay took root then. Plus, I just love to read in my boat (I’m not much of a fisherman; I don’t like the hours).

But to float and loaf, Whitman-style, that’s my jam. So I wanted to communicate that satisfaction of reading an “unroofed book” in an unroofed place where the kingfishers of the text found their counterparts in the kingfishers alighting around me on the river. Each amplified the other to make both the experience of reading and the experience of floating much more intense.

If you could spend a year writing anywhere in the world, where would it be?

A small Greek island in the Aegean Sea. All Syrian refugees would be welcomed, and given ample water and provisions. Who knows, perhaps we would try to enact the blueprint of Plato’s Republic. But with poets. Our constitution and national anthem would be Auden’s “In Praise of Limestone.”

Name a book you bought for its cover.

Probably Edward Weston’s Book of Nudes. And not just for the cover.

alimon_brightdeadthingsWhat emerging author or first book are you most excited about?

Ada Limón’s book of poems, Bright Dead Things. It is an incredibly big-hearted collection that will—should—establish her as a major American poet. And it also have a very cool cover.

Lightning round:

Typing or longhand? Longhand in the morning, typing in the afternoon—and at night if necessary.

Whitewater or flat water? Since I almost drowned on whitewater last year, flat water for a while.

Morning or night? See above.

E-reader or print? As John McEnroe would say, you can’t be serious.

Vowel or consonant? Ohio is the most beautiful word in the American language. Draw your own conclusions.

Canoe or kayak? Whichever has the most beer in it. So, canoe.

Bookmark or dog-ear? Bookmark, usually a parking ticket from the intolerant campus police where I teach.

Cake or pie? Ice cream.

Mountains or sea? If I decide, mountains; if my wife decides, sea.