Today’s Featured Writer edits fiction for 3:AM Magazine, writes for The Guardian, runs the Twitter account for #ReadWomen, and so much more. Joanna Walsh is a force to behold. Check out our interview with her:
Fem: How did you get started with #ReadWomen?
Joanna Walsh: It really was almost accidental. I made some new year’s cards with drawings, and a list of women writers, and asked people on Twitter to contribute more names. So many people wanted to take part (and wanted the cards). After a month I had to make the decision to give it up, or invest in it more heavily. I chose the second, and I’m very glad I did. I try to run the Twitter account as a platform for writing news, and for connecting other projects. I’m currently working with translator Katy Derbyshire, and others, towards founding a prize for fiction in English translation, written by women, an area in which they are heavily underrepresented.
F: How did you become the fiction editor of 3:AM Magazine? What’s it like?
JW: I asked the editor Andrew Gallix if I could do it, and he said yes… it’s mostly like sitting in front of a computer, while people email me their work. I’ve just closed the second round of submissions. After eight months of posting work on the site writers have had an opportunity to see the sort of things I like to publish, and are sending work I’m excited to see. I very much like working with new writers, and publishing work that may be too unconventional for many other venues.
F: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?
JW: Like lots of writers, I keep notebooks. When something keep coming up I know I should probably write about it. If I’ve been commissioned to write a story, that’s where I look too. I have two books coming out this autumn: ‘Hotel’ (Bloomsbury), which is non-fiction, and a collection of stories with the excellent US publisher, The Dorothy Project.
F: Do you find it difficult to write from perspectives that are linked to identities you don’t have?
JW: Some experiences are so politically charged that it’s very difficult to think about inhabiting them. If a writer wants to try to construct an experience that is far from his or her own, there are always ways to do it, though what they’ll end up with is a take on the experience by the sort of writers, and people, they are. I don’t think writers should prevent themselves from, or force themselves to write about any particular experience. Some writers write very close to their own experience, others don’t. I tend to write close. But, as I’m interested in the boundaries between people and objects, I am just as likely to write from the perspective of a television, or a bunch of flowers. At the moment, I’m writing as a dog.
F: Are there any running themes in your writing?
JW: I find that I write a lot about silence: about failures of communication, but also about voluntary silence. I am interested in the difference between what can be said, and what can be thought (or what can be thought about things that are felt) – so, unuttered language, maybe. I’m also always looking for ways to talk about how we experience time, especially memory. I’ve found, recently, that I’ve written a lot recently about metamorphoses, so much that now I can even spell it.
F: How do you define a piece of feminist writing?
JW: Oh that’s a tough one. It probably depends on your definition of feminism. Rebecca West’s doormat definition is a good one, but there are circumstances where it’s so very difficult not to act like a doormat. I certainly have, but I hope I don’t write like one. Writing is important for doormats like me. A piece of writing can do something as small as repeat an experience. That seems a tiny achievement, but it is, I think, very big and difficult to discover that some of these experiences are ‘important’ enough to be put into words, and some of them require words that seem strange or seem to be used in strange ways.
F: Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what are you listening to these days?
JW: I can’t listen to anything when I’m writing. I also read my own stuff back to myself quietly when I’m working, and embarrass my friends if I do it in cafes.
F: What writers influence your stories?
JW: I have periods of obsession with different writers, where I read a lot of their work, and try to work out a bit about what they’re doing. I read a lot of short stories, and work that crosses the boundary between fiction and memoir (Tao Lin, Sheila Heti, Chris Kraus, Kathy Acker…). I’m interested in experimental writing of all kinds, from DADA to the possibilities of digital. I love Leonora Carrington’s anarchic short stories. I like to read (especially women) experimental writers of the late 20th Century, whose experiments (as perhaps all experiments are) were linked to particular political stances: Anna Kavan, Ann Quin, Christine Brooke-Rose, and others. I read in French as well as English, though it takes me twice as long. I read a lot in translation from other languages. New books I’ve enjoyed in the six months include Marie NDiaye’s Self-Portrait in Green, Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper, and Claire-Louise Bennet’s Pond.
F: Off the top of your head, who is your favorite short story writer?
JW: Argh. OK. Clarice Lispector: playful, funny, violent, dead serious. And there’s a new edition of her complete stories out soon.