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Your Neighborhood’s Feminist Witchcraft: An Exclusive Q&A With Rachel Kessler and Jericho Brown

Posted Wed, 11/01/2017 - 8:00am by  |  Category:

All eyes will be on authors Rachel Kessler, Jericho Brown, and Porochista Khakpour on Friday, Nov. 10. They’ll be taking the stage for the latest installment in our Hugo Literary Series. As a nod to our new and permanent home, this year’s themes are all around real estate. The theme for Nov. 10: “Area Protected by Neighborhood Watch.”

What’s that mean to these authors? Read on for details. And to see them in person, learn more about the upcoming event.

Rachel Kessler

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

It will be weird. Exploring disorientation and re-orientation. Pre-colonized and de-colonized maps. Also disassembling 1980’s pop hits Hall & Oates song “Private Eyes” and Alan Parsons Project “Eye In the Sky” and how lyrics colonized the neighborhood of my girl mind. The male gaze, God watching, and how maybe we could lock those two in a staring contest and go about our revolution. You know, my usual feminist witchcraft.

I will provide some visual aids, including hand-drawn and experimentally rendered maps of para-spaces in the neighborhood I live in, (which turns out to be the neighborhood of my ancestors) and lots of ghosts.

I’ve been obsessively walking this street that runs through my neighborhood and got real curious about its history, talked and walked with a bunch of neighbors, and found my own roots along it! So I’ve been writing this lyrical essay uncovering the multiple experiences of the same location, investigating Seattle history and the way we map memory. Digging down and taking core samples. I will try to remount with words and light projections the 20-foot x 20-foot installation I made at Vermont Studio Center last month where the viewer walks inside the hill that is Yesler Way, exploding the layers of geological and social movements. It’ll be like Space Mountain with Mr. Rogers and Audre Lorde and Richard Simmons and Andy Kaufman. Sneakily serious while snorting laughter out the nose vibe.

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

Oh, writing is always tough when you tell yourself it has to be Writing with a capital “W” aka Important or Worthwhile. A long time ago, I gave myself permission to write complete crap, just so long as I’m doing it every day. So I write one shitty poem every day, or at least three vomitty paragraphs, or paint some crude cartoon. Sorry, it’s gross. But it is like running or dancing or playing the piano — most days not pretty but you must do it. And it might help to take different routes to keep you awake to the moment.

This process of creation is located in the body, not just the conceptual mind. Move the pen or paint brush or fingers or legs. Exercise the muscles so you are ready for the apocalypse! Then once in awhile — shazam! You get totally lost and find an enchanted forest running through a neighborhood you thought you knew or accidentally execute a death drop on the kitchen floor or stagger into a chord progression and you cross over into another realm for a little while. Is it magic or endorphins? Who cares. It’s awesome. If you make that space in your practice for getting lost/experimentation/total crap, sometimes a flower or maybe a pumpkin grows out of that steaming pile of poop. But if you don’t put in the time that book isn’t going to write itself. You could boil it down to Dory’s theme: “Just keep swimming.” A close kin to “Fake it ‘til you make it.”

Q: The theme for this Lit Series is “Area Protected By Neighborhood Watch” so we’ve got a little writing challenge. Describe your neighborhood — in one sentence.

The CD’s roots go deep: People here say hello when we pass each other on the street.

Jericho BrownJericho Brown

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

The work questions whether there is such a thing as “universal” and whether experiences that are not universal can be rendered as the so-called sublime. I am using personae to more fully understand whether or not the body is at different levels of risk when it is raced, gendered, or disabled. I’m writing about the malnourished and persecuted body. I explore how even that body learns to thrive despite the stories grafted upon it, experiences that mean to degrade and devalue it. What I have written leads me to a hypothesis: in several of these poems, speakers learn—through touch of their own and other bodies—to love themselves rather than wish for death.

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

There is a we, and I belong. If God is a body, I’m only a cell. I have a purpose, but I’m also supported by help seen and unseen. I don’t have to do anything to keep God going. I only have to be who I am.

Q: The theme for this Lit Series is “Area Protected By Neighborhood Watch” so we’ve got a little writing challenge. Describe your neighborhood — in one sentence.

Again, I’m the black one.

Porochista Khakpour was unable to respond before publication.