Issue 26 Interviews
from its inspiration to its final arrival in the hands of the reader, writing undergoes a lengthy and complex process, and one that is too often overlooked. Each issue, Front Porch sits down with people who are engaged daily with the processes and industries of writing, be it by running community workshops, buying books at a used bookstore, organizing translations, and much more. These interviews seek to examine the many forces that shape literature, and to highlight the perceptive and passionate people to whom we owe the books on our shelves.
Front Porch: There seems to be a long standing stigma in the literary world
regarding very comic or very fantastical works, in that they are often not considered as "serious" or "important" as realist fiction. Increasingly, however, the distinctions between fiction deemed "literary" and fiction with fantastic elements has begun to blur. What are your thoughts on these cultural distinctions, and their function? How much of a purpose does categorization serve?
Aimee Bender: Happily, as you say, this has been shifting, and there are more varieties of tone these days. And, the high/low culture split started to erode decades ago. Categories are a way to talk about things but beyond that not so useful I think—they begin a conversation but should never be an end point. It’s interesting to me how many women seem to write from a fairy tale influence—Kevin Brockmeier and Manuel Gonzales being a couple clear exceptions. But Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Judy Budnitz, Ramona Ausubel, Karen Russell, Jeanette Winterson, Angela Carter as the matriarch of it all—it’s a great and growing list.
Front Porch: Your first book, Dark Under Kiganda Stars, featured a linear narrative while your second book, Pantry, is more lyrical and syntactically fragmented. What led you to this shift in style?
Lilah Hegnauer: The move towards a more fragmentary and lyrical voice in Pantry was the result of growing up, moving across the country, and poking my head above the lip of the poetic foxhole that kept my work constrained, and thus more manageable. After Dark Under Kiganda Stars, I found myself seeking out a less narrative, more lyrical voice, partly in response to working with Greg Orr at the University of Virginia and partly because that was the kind of work I was reading. I was attracted to the flexibility of the short lyric and because it taps into a kind of incantatory power that reaches beyond narrative.
Front Porch: In an essay for the Poetry Society you wrote, “the hypothetical might be my favorite state of being.” Could you elaborate on what attracts you to the hypothetical and its relation to your poetry?
Wendy Xu: It is like Dickinson saying “I dwell in possibility,” the hypothetical being a kind of unlimited imagining—perhaps because it also invites collaboration and revision, it feels open to others. “State of being” is a funny thing, and I’m laughing now over having said that. I mean, the mode of the hypothetical is also imbued with some sadness necessarily, no? The ideal is the hypothetical. And it is always pushing up against reality.