fbpx

Wild Sides: An Exclusive Q&A With Alexander Chee, Kirstin Valdez Quade and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Posted Mon, 10/24/2016 - 8:00am by  |  Category:

On Friday, Nov. 4, Alexander Chee, Kirstin Valdez Quade, and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore will unleash their wild sides during this year’s second Literary Series. In a recent email exchange, each offered up a hint of what they’re writing for Lit Series, a piece of advice that keeps their words flowing, and the kind of animal they’d want to be. Read on for more.

Find out more about the upcoming Literary Series and buy tickets.


Alexander CheeAlexander Chee

Q: What, if anything, can you tell us about your Literary Series piece?

A: I’m still not sure if the animal lives. Cliffhanger! That’s about it.

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

A: If you’re stuck with what you’re writing, chances are you don’t like the idea, you don’t believe it enough, or you haven’t made enough decisions — and usually all of that is related. Lately with students I have them make a checklist of the unmade decisions in their story, and then they have to start making them, or go find out what they have to know to make them, and that usually gets them unstuck. You have to watch out for your blind spots.

Q: Since the theme of your Lit Series is “animals” — tell us, if you could be any animal other than a human, what would you be and why?

A: An octopus. Especially now that we know how weird their DNA is. I’ve always thought of them as beautiful, and now I like the idea of them as Earth’s genetic iconoclasts. It may be my next tattoo.


Kirstin Valdez Quade

Kirstin Valdez Quade

Q: What, if anything, can you tell us about your Literary Series piece?

A: It’s still in progress, and probably will be until I read it, but right now it involves a bird.

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

A: Draw what you see, not what you think you see.

When I was in fourth grade, a parent volunteer came to my class to give a drawing lesson. She set a chair in the middle of the classroom and told us to draw it. I drew an excellent chair largely from my imagination, with a four legs and a back and fancy shading. The art teacher paused at my desk, tapped my drawing, and asked, ‘Is that a drawing of that chair there? Draw what you see, not what you think you see.’

So I tried again, and the result was not as tidy or as chair-like as my first attempt, but it was truer to the chair in the middle of the room, as seen from my particular spot at the edge of the classroom.

This is the central responsibility of the writer: to describe honestly the world as it is, however messy and complicated, without preconceptions of what a chair ought to look like. When the writing feels difficult, I remind myself that my job is simply to be alert, to look closely. This helps me return to the page.

Q: Since the theme of your Lit Series is “animals” — tell us, if you could be any animal other than a human, what would you be and why?

A: I’d be a crow. They’re smart and personable, with big raucous families, and they’re awfully glossy.


Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Q: What, if anything, can you tell us about your Literary Series piece?

A: Well, I’m writing it right now, and I’m a relentless editor, so who knows what will remain. I could show you the outline, which is maybe a piece of artwork the way it winds around itself in scribbles. When I write, I keep everything in, and then I take everything that shouldn’t be there out.

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

A: Writing keeps me alive. That’s what I always remind myself, when everything is falling apart around me, inside and out. When I write it down, I almost always feel better.

Q: Since the theme of your Lit Series is “animals” — tell us, if you could be any animal other than a human, what would you be and why?

A: I love watching sea lions — the way they jump up on top of one another, and fall asleep. There will be one at the bottom of a huge pile of thousands of pounds of flesh, just sleeping. As someone who has never really experienced restful sleep, I imagine that’s what it’s like.