Kate Zambreno is the author of two novels, O Fallen Angel and Green Girl. Heroines, a critical memoir centering around her obsession with the wives and myths of modernism, will be published by Semiotext(e) in September 2012. She reads at the Franklin Park Reading Series on February 13 with Ben Marcus, Martha Southgate and others; and on February 19 at KGB Bar, with Helen Phillips and others.
For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
Michael Schaub at Bookslut described my first novel, O Fallen Angel, as a “plaintive, enraged, confused scream.” I think perhaps that scream encapsulates my fiction and nonfiction, the drive and directive behind what and when I write.
What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
Well, my new novel Green Girl was really inspired by and is in dialogue with some novels that definitely have the power to revolutionize—Jane Bowles’s Two Serious Ladies, all the novels of Jean Rhys, especially her between-the-wars demimonde ones, Violette Leduc’s The Lady and the Little Fox Fur, Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star, Elfriede Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher and Wonderful, Wonderful Times, Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School, Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project. So I would definitely recommend all of those. I write about many of these texts in an upcoming critical memoir, Heroines, and in that book I also reference some pretty revolutionary fictional notebooks: Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights, Renata Adler’s Speedboat, the entire oeuvre of Bhanu Kapil, including her recent Schizophrene.
Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
I just Googled Marcus Aurelius, ha! I mean, I knew it was probably Roman. I don’t have much shame with my reading or watching choices—in Heroines I write about my recent obsession with historical romances, or my love of teenage soap operas on the CW or ABC Family. And man, what ghostwritten celebrity tell-all wouldn’t I want to read! I draw from the lives and breakdowns of Lindsey Lohan and Britney Spears in Green Girl. I went through a binge a few years ago of reading every ghostwritten memoir by screen system sirens (Gene Tierney, Frances Farmer, Marilyn Monroe, etc.) for a project I’m still working on. But something too—all of these reality TV girl-starlets have ghostwritten books, Snooki and Lauren Conrad, etc.—I’m more interested in the ambiguity and messiness underneath, imagining the ghosts behind the ghostwritten.
Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
I’m still living my salad days, pretty much, although these days I often put fancy greens in my salad (I can spend some mad money on groceries). I was basically poor and working off and on in the service industry and multiple jobs through most of my twenties—I’ve never made much of a living wage, and since I stopped being a journalist full-time and began to teach adjunct and write, maybe 7 years ago, I have been off and on in a cycle of unemployed and underemployed. So yeah. My partner makes a stable income where we live now, but I have not been able to find work for a year. There were some weeks of living off of cereal, or one sandwich a day, or the free or discounted meal I got waiting tables, when I was out of college and wanting to Be a Writer, but didn’t live under the material conditions to properly write. I think Woolf had a point, with her idea of stability and space allowing the time to really embark on a personal apprenticeship of learning to be a writer. While others may have gone to an MFA program after college, I worked as waitress at a 24-hour diner dreaming (maybe plotting) of being a writer. But I wouldn’t exchange the experience of doing that or being a girl behind the counter for anything. Those are the experiences I culled from in Green Girl.
What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
Although I think and hope there’s many types of readers for Green Girl, I really love it when girls have read it, and have responded to it in writing, on their Tumblrs and blogs and in emails to me and in the comments sections of my blog, in beautiful personal ecstatic essays and rants, my writing charging and helping their own writing take flight, and all of us responding to and jonesing off of and dialoguing with each other.
Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Almost everything I ever write. Part of the wrestling with writing is forcing myself not to erase, and sometimes often revealing that struggle.