Famine: An Exclusive Q&A with Ottessa Moshfegh, Leni Zumas, and Laura Da’

Posted Fri, 1/29/2021 - 5:35pm by  |  Category: , ,

On February 12, Ottessa Moshfegh, Leni Zumas, and Laura Da’ will kick off the apocalyptic 2021 Hugo Literary Series with new works on the theme of “Famine.”

In a recent email exchange, Ottessa, Leni, and Laura shared details about their projects, their favorite writing advice, and their apocalypse survival strategies.

Find out more about the upcoming literary series and buy tickets »

Photo by Jake Belcher

Ottessa Moshfegh

What, if anything, can you tell us about your Lit Series piece?

I’ll be reading an excerpt from a novel that I wrote during quarantine, Lapvona. The story takes place in a fictional village in the Middle Ages, and the section I will read follows one of the main characters, a rapacious lamb herder, through his experience of a devastating drought.

This year’s Lit Series events are themed on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Tell us: What’s your apocalypse survival strategy?

I think I’ve been preparing mentally for the apocalypse since birth. For me it’s all about detachment. The thing that keeps me relatively happy and sane is writing. I can’t be so petty as to think that the only world is the world I can see with my eyes. There is a vast and mysterious universe out there, and within me, and I try to access the power of that in my writing.

What’s one piece of advice that keeps you going when the writing gets tough?

I don’t know if it’s advice that keeps me going… Maybe it is the evidence of human power in past works of art that makes me feel that my little woe-of-the-day is only a trifle in the big picture. Think about how a ballet dancer trains, or how Monet painted. You keep practicing. You can’t get distracted by your own ego. It isn’t really about you. You’re just a vessel for the art. It comes out of you. Giving up will only make you constipated.

 

Photo by Sophia Shalmiyev

Leni Zumas

What, if anything, can you tell us about your Lit Series piece? 

I’m writing a story that takes place in a hospital bed. It’s about debulking surgery, songs in car commercials, the climate disaster of 1816, and Frankenstein.

This year’s Lit Series events are themed on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Tell us: What’s your apocalypse survival strategy? 

I have very few skills that would be of use during an apocalypse. I guess I would just stay in my house, avoiding other humans, which I am good at because I’ve had years of practice.  

What’s one piece of advice that keeps you going when the writing gets tough? 

It’s not advice per se, but there’s a line from the Barbara Guest poem “A Handbook of Surfing” that encourages me, writing-wise: “A hard way to it and the only.”

 

Laura Da’

What, if anything, can you tell us about your Lit Series piece? 

In December I walked through a meadow near my hometown looking for the foundations of three territorial forts that I have been researching. The meadow is a park now. I struggle with asking colonial language to make an accounting for its sins because I don’t think the colonial endeavor is capable of contrition. As a poet, this is one of my greatest unrequited hungers. I’m planning on reading a few poems that consider this hunger for perspective and atonement.

This year’s Lit Series events are themed on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Tell us: What’s your apocalypse survival strategy? 

In The Book of Revelation, the third horseman rides on a black horse carrying a scale and harkening famine, but both wine and oil are spared. Close reading shows that the recommended strategy for end times is to head upmountain and find a cave to hide out in. It pleases me that my own apocalypse strategy follows these righteous precincts—I drink too much dry white wine, I am apt to fry anything, and I wander around in the mountains all the time.

What’s one piece of advice that keeps you going when the writing gets tough? 

To protect creativity by paring away the parts of writing that make you miserable and elevating the ones that don’t.