interview w/ lily hoang

This interview was originally published at BrazosBookstore.com on 8.15.16

Say you get to do an interview for the first time in four months and it is with the woman that wrote your favorite book this year. What you don’t know is that she is in Europe during the weeks you have to reach her. In fact, she’s been in Europe for eleven weeks: fourteen countries, one book tour, one week-long writing workshop in Barcelona. The last time you used Skype, you were a junior in college, and it was to talk to your best friend while she was in Scotland, and your crappy ex-boyfriend during his year in Japan. Seeing the interface and hearing the sound of the dial tone conjures more feelings than anticipated.

When I meet Lily Hoang, author of the essay collection A BESTIARY—and four other books I have not read—I am wearing a hoodie I bought in 2009 for a band I no longer pay to see and pulling a personal pizza out of the oven because it is 9pm and dinner isn’t going to eat itself. Hoang also is in her pajamas, wearing a black t-shirt with a reference to something unknown to me and smoking an e-cigarette in her Boston hotel room. She ordered Indian food for delivery—they don’t have Indian food in New Mexico, see—and this is what it means to be professional writers: to eat on live stream with strangers because it is all the time you have before the deadline.


For two months, I backed A BESTIARY every way I knew how: reviews for Ploughshares and Heavy Feather Review, staff picks for the store and our website, and now this. In so many ways, I had already said what I needed to say, that A BESTIARY is the thing that finally gave me permission to stop worrying about everybody else’s opinions regarding my Asian-ness. It is enough to be myself and Asian and American, all. There is no quota. There are no rules.

In A BESTIARY, Hoang discusses her disguises through the years, and how few of them fit. During her marriage to a white man she calls Chris, she let her husband “correct” her opinions because that’s what “a good wife” would do. She made pies from scratch, with cold butter. “This used to be me,” she writes. Bitter toward the ex-husband, sure, but much more disappointed in herself for contorting that way. She uses Professor Hoang as comparison: “In the classroom, I project confidence and strength. People tell me I intimidate them.” Though dubbed her “favorite Lily to wear,” it is still a performance. It is all a performance.

When I call Hoang, she knows that I have read her book, which means I know what kind of sex she likes (rough), the name of her best best friend (Dorothy), all of her hate (and love) for her Vietnamese parents. I know about her abusive ex-husband and her abusive on-again, off-again boyfriend, the fling she had in Albuquerque; I know that she masturbates every day. In other words, I already know everything I want to know, more than I deserve to know.

So, what do I ask? I ask where she went in Europe. I ask if any of the recurring characters in her essays have read the book. I am thinking of her parents, but she thinks I mean the men and without any hesitation pulls me into the gossip surrounding the awful boyfriend. She tells me where he lives, what he’s doing. She says that when she posted a status that she was coming back to America, he sent her a message asking if he could buy her a plane ticket to come see him. Her response to me—in real time, side-bar—is to make a face and imitate her asking him if he had read the book. Then, since he has: “What makes you think I have any intention of seeing you ever again?”

She takes another puff on her e-cig, and I think, I want to be this woman.


Scratching her head, she says, “Do you want to know how I wrote the book? That’s something that hasn’t been written up yet.” I say, “Okay,” but what I wonder is whether or not she would have said the same thing if we were talking without video, if she couldn’t see my face. She tells me about studying with Rikki Ducornet and how she is responsible for the book that is on my bookshelf. During their summer together, Hoang read Ducornet the manuscript out loud. (Ducornet is in her seventies and can’t see well.) She loved the first piece, but was less enthusiastic about the second. An old woman without pretense, Ducornet asked Hoang if she had anything better, because everything except the first section was too self-serving, too purple. “I want to see what your brain can do,” Ducornet said.

Despite all, Hoang’s manuscript, the same one she read Ducornet, wins two contests. The first would not let her do revisions—it was the manuscript as is or bust. The second was the Cleveland State University Poetry Center. CSU gave her twenty days. Her deadline was September 10, in the midst of her deadline for her tenure portfolio, which was due September 1. Over curry and okra—so much Indian food the delivery person gave her three sets of silverware—Hoang tells me about those marathon weeks, how she juggled starting classes, being associate department head, finishing the portfolio, rewriting the book. She did not sleep.

What became the essay titled “on the WAY TO THE TEMPLE OF TEN THOUSAND SKULLS” was thirty-five pages in its original form. In my version of A BESTIARY, it is four sentences. Total, there are, Hoang says, “maybe ten” pages that got saved. The rest went to the trash, and for the better. In her acknowledgments, Hoang thanks Ducornet for their “fairy tale summer together,” and I want to know how these things happen. Because the book I read? Hoang cares so little for her own pain that many times I want to intervene on her behalf. It is a difficult, almost impossible, balance—to say, “Yes, this was me,” without romanticizing it at all.

Attempting an approach at the diagonal, I ask her about the title, and she says there’s “no special meaning behind it.” Instead, she tells me her definition of a bestiary—“a collection of animals, real and imagined”—and that she is a “literal human being” who says “exactly what [she] means.” In fact, she tells me she often gets chided for not being able to detect sarcasm. “I believe everything,” she says, and at this point, when she has not slept in days, has already been on two planes today and has another one in the morning, before dawn, I cannot argue.

Last question: what next? Right off, she says, “Tindering My Way Through Europe” and describes her vision of this book of steamy essays about her trips across the continent with all these handsome men with doctorates—EVERY SINGLE ONE. Hoang’s PhD? On “geography of the imagination.”

review: THE VOYAGE OF THE SABLE VENUS by robin coste lewis

This review was originally published at BrazosBookstore.com on 2.1.16

Awards don’t impress me. This is not to say that if I wrote a book and someone, or a board of someones, decided to give me an award (or some money) that I would reject it. Awards rescue writers from obscurity, they propel people to keep reading, etc etc.

However, they also create this weird dynamic of deserving. Some people see those stickers on book jackets and think, “These are the only books worth reading.” Where I experience this bias, and how it affects me directly, is when someone comes to Brazos Bookstore looking for a gift for, say, their Aunt Peggy, who “only likes books that win awards…”

I am not Aunt Peggy. So, when I open THE VOYAGE OF THE SABLE VENUS by Robin Coste Lewis, debut poetry collection and National Book Award-winner, I dare it to impress me. And for all my anti-hype wariness, it’s immediate. In the first poem “Plantation,” Lewis writes: “Because you had never been hungry, I knew / I could tell you the black side / of my family owned slaves.”

In three simple lines, Lewis calls out slavery apologists and attacks the misconception that we live in a post-racial society by challenging our textbook understanding of race in America. It’s easy for anyone to say that slavery is over and racism is dead. Once upon a time, the whites abused the blacks then the blacks got free and we lived happily-ever-after. This is not that. When the speaker confesses something personal, something awful, it complicates that portrait.

However, the true marvel in this passage is not that Lewis contains so much in so little—she is a poet, after all. It is her decision to approach the reader as a lover. Here, the speaker harbors no outrage, only shame. The speaker says, “I am going to share this with you, this thing I never share with anyone.” It’s irresistible, this intimacy.

By the end of the poem, though, the sweetness (“We laughed when I said plantation, / fell into our chairs when I said cane”) turns sinister. Not because of anything inside the poem—the speaker maintains adoration (“And meanwhile, all I could think about / were the innumerable ways I would’ve loved / to have eaten you”). It’s the indignation the reader feels that the speaker also maintains silence (arguably when there should be screaming):

You pulled
my pubic bone toward you. I didn’t
say, It’s still broken; I didn’t tell

you, There’s still this crack. It was sore,
but I stayed silent because you were smiling.

The lover remains the lover, the halo above the speaker’s head almost a thing one can touch. It is not endearing. Instead, it remembers this famous quote by Zora Neale Hurston: “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”


VOYAGE comes in three parts: two bookends (a brief and debrief, as it were) and the eponymous middle section. Sprawling seventy-two pages, “Voyage of the Sable Venus” is “a narrative poem comprised solely and entirely of the titles, catalogue entries, and exhibit description of Western art objects in which a black female figure is present, dating from 38,000 BCE to the present.” The list of galleries, museums, and historical societies that Lewis visited for research alone spans three and a half pages, with sites from the University of Michigan Museum of Art to the Egyptian Museum of Cairo.

Reading through “Voyage of the Sable Venus,” the effort put into the redux of already curated work is palpable. Like walking through an actual museum, it takes time to explore it all, at least for me. There are certain passages I read multiple times, like “II.” on pages forty eight through fifty. Each page of “II.” has two columns. On the left, objects (water jar, pointment spoon, two nails); on the right, details (“a Bes and an Isia dancing / back to back,” “with two heads / of black women forming”). There is no punctuation. I read all the objects together, all the details together. I read it top to bottom, left to right.

On page eighty-eight, a piece of something I know, when Lewis writes, “Lone Black Girl on School Bus / in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” followed by something I know nothing about, “Head of a Girl Wearing an Ornate Head // Dress.” Another grounding passage: on page eighty-nine when Lewis repeats “Moorish” over and over, “Moorish” as a word that I tend not to encounter. Lewis, though, probably knows this and so, transforms it into an incantation:

Moorish Women
On their way
To the cemetery

Moorish Women
On their way
To a marabout

Moorish Women Taking
A Walk Moorish
Women in Town

Attire Moorish
Woman in City

Other times, the writing is clear as a brick to the face, as when in “Dick-and-Jane-with-Me Page Spread / The Upper Room II Flipside Shelf” a Black Woman asks, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, / who’s the finest of them all?” and the Mirror replies, with no preamble, “Snow White / you Black Bitch, / and don’t you forget it.”

In her acknowledgements, Lewis dedicates “Voyage of the Sable Venus” to “the legacy of black librarianship, and black librarians, worldwide.”


The idea of the black slave-owning relatives returns in the last poem of collection “Félicité,” which is dedicated to Lewis’s mother, “and her mother, and hers, ad infinitum.” This time, the speaker is not an “I” addressing an absent “you,” the reader as a stand-in. It is Lewis, or the voice of Lewis. If “Plantation” is the stylized version, the one that is performed, “Félicité” is the one for a diary. Here, the bewilderment, lacking from the first poem, is obvious:

He took great pleasure
in watching black women
hanged inside the Square

to musical accompaniment.
I read this about him once,
then tried to see her,

brown, sleeping
next to him, fucking him
on her plantation, on top of a pineapple

bed, kissing behind his ears
sharing an alligator
pear, strolling

through her cane.

There is disgust. There is loyalty. There is this story that is passed through this blood, in these bodies, generating “this sensation [Lewis has] had for years: / that of another body / hovering inside me / waiting for address.” The woman in question, Marie Panis, is there, inside Lewis. Marie Panis: black woman, wife, slave owner, Lewis’s grandmother a handful of “great”s back. “What can History possibly say?” Lewis writes. She continues:

Sometimes I feel a pride I cannot defend
or explain. Sometimes I smile.

Into the barbed nectar
of this story I have stared
my whole life.

She stares, from black woman to black woman, from venus to venus, ad infinitum.

review: YEAR OF THE GOOSE by carly j. hallman

This review was originally published at BrazosBookstore.com on 1.4.16

Crawl before you walk, they say. Break through then follow your muse once you’ve got everyone’s attention. Carly J. Hallman wants none of that. Her debut novel, YEAR OF THE GOOSE, takes us to a version of contemporary China where tycoons are throwing tantrums, obese children are getting slaughtered to improve the country’s overall demographic, and UFOs are taking over night clubs. The talking goose is talking and one of China’s finest organic hair models has gone missing. It’s hilarious. It’s insane.

There is a certain charm to it, though, like when you’re the only sober person at your boyfriend’s friend’s New Year’s Eve party. You shuffle from room to room and strangers pull on your arm and tell you stories, each one more outrageous than the last, and you start to wonder how these people even came to be at the same party—is it even the same party?—until, at midnight, everybody comes together to count down from one year into the next. With GOOSE, each section of the book is one of those party goers unloading his or her woes (this happened to me, this really happened). In lieu of the countdown, there is the final section of the book, where all the characters meet and the chaos switches from the past to the present.

It’s a lot to tackle but becomes easier to talk about—and construct, I imagine!—when framed under the guise of a fable: once upon a time, there was a magical goose who gave China its most successful corporation, Bashful Goose Snack Company, and it was not a blessing.


Hallman received her degree in writing and rhetoric from St. Edward’s University in Austin but has lived in Beijing for the past four years. When I ask her via email whether it was a conscious decision to write about her second home for her first book, she reports that it was a mission a long time coming. “I first visited China in 2006, and since then I knew I wanted to write a book about the place,” she writes. “It pulses with life; there are stories, familiar and strange, everywhere you turn,” despite that “in the western media, China is always painted as this very foreign, almost alien, place.”

But just as the American experience isn’t completely contained within the context of the American Dream, a concept that Hallman tells me motioned a movement in China a couple years ago called the Chinese Dream campaign, Chinese citizens “aren’t regularly running their mouths about the Tiananmen ‘incident’ or anything.” Instead, history functions more as an ongoing discussion: “Among every grouping of families and friends, there are countless anecdotes and stories that challenge, directly or indirectly, every part of the ‘official’ narrative.”

Hallman’s argument? If the Chinese experience varies at an individual level—because of course it does!—then our (Western) art about it, by extension, should reflect dimension and diversity as well. The issue is that “a lot of the literature about China that’s written in English by westerners is either an Amy Tan type story—someone with Chinese heritage writing a family saga—or nonfiction by a white guy who goes to China and has some cultural misunderstandings.” Not that Amy Tan can’t write, but Yu Hua, Mo Yan, Murong, and Shen Keyi are out there, too, writing “hilarious and brave and surreal and badass” books that inspired Hallman to attempt to “widen the scope of what we (westerners) write about when we write about China.”

Always, always Hallman remembers that she is an American in China, an important distinction that shapes not only how she moves through the world but how GOOSE represents both countries and their peoples. In Hallman’s novel, America is the country that is far and foreign but it never reads as though America is the Promised Land and China something ridiculous. Flipping that scenario, GOOSE never presents itself as a story that takes place in America but uses Asian-sounding names and take-out boxes to say, “Hey, look, we’re in China!”

Yes, it’s stylized, and yes, there’s hyperbole all over—when I ask her about it, Hallman says that she “loves [hyperbole] more than anything in the whole wide world”—but “much of what’s in the book is rooted in reality, believe it or not.” According to Hallman, while modern China has opportunity, glitz, and endless possibility, it also has the pollution, corruption, and unchecked greed to match.

“Visit real China and I promise you’ll see childhood obesity and corporate decadence and old ladies selling turtles on the roadside and rich kids with amazing haircuts cruising around in half-million dollar cars,” she writes. “That stuff is all 100% real.”


So, what kind of publisher rallies around a book like this? GOOSE is one of those punks with a half-shaved head and piercings in places that are meant to make you (the onlooker) feel uncomfortable. GOOSE is loud as hell and not at all sorry. GOOSE is the December title from our friends at Unnamed Press. Since our introduction to them back in May with Gallagher Lawson’s THE PAPER MAN, we have followed Unnamed as they offer titles about pica, works in translation, and now GOOSE.

How did this pairing come to be? With the casual air that you might tell a girlfriend about your first date with a new potential lover, Hallman jumps right into it: “I was dawdling in bed one morning, scrolling through Tumblr on my phone because I didn’t want to go to work…” In her feed, she came across about “a new publishing house that focused on international fiction with unlikely protagonists and voices,” the seeming perfect match for her quirky, homeless manuscript. “A few days later, I worked up the courage to send them an email query,” she writes. “A few months later, I had a book contract.”

GOOSE’s official pub date was December 22—a great date if shoppers want to use it as a holiday present, or a death sentence if it’s one that gets lost in the whirlwind of year-end lists and upcoming books for next year. Since we put it on the tables, though, Hallman’s spunky debut has been the former; it was our number one best-selling title the week after Christmas.

Maybe it’s best to say it like this: When I ask Hallman about her favorite snacks—the Bashful Goose runs China, after all—she says, “I think my absolute favorite kinds of snacks are those that contain a combination of sweet and salty (best of both worlds!).” If GOOSE is the salt, Hallman is the sweetness. But not sweet like a macaron. Sweet like a raspberry, delicate but not without edge.

interview w/ wendy s walters

This interview was originally published on BrazosBookstore.com in August 2015

“Lonely in America,” the first essay in Wendy S. Walters’ MULTIPLY/DIVIDE, begins like this: “I have never been particularly interested in slavery, perhaps because it is such an obvious fact of my family’s history.” Whatever the reason, the idea of a woman with slavery in her bloodline having little interest in her history intrigues me—especially when compared to someone like my friend Rachel, whose distant relative’s involvement in the Nazi movement caused her to question her own identity. Who chooses what we care about, or how we assess our personal histories against larger world histories? In “Lonely in America,” variations of this question eventually lead Walters to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where “eight coffins and the remains of thirteen people were removed” from beneath the city streets. Walters reports that “at least four of the remains in questions were of African ancestry, most likely slaves buried there in the 1700s.”

“[Portsmouth] is a really lovely town,” Walters tells me over the phone, “but beneath the city streets, there’s this history that’s really not part of the public identity of the city,” meaning that New England’s history with segregation often gets buried—literally, in this case. She was fascinated by the idea of “people [living] their daily lives on top of this cemetery,” not knowing what lay just below the surface. In this essay, and throughout the book, Walters searches for ways to keep herself awake, alert, and present. “There’s…a lot of pain in history and present context of America,” she tells me. “[MULTIPLY/DIVIDE], for me, is an attempt to figure out where the pain is located in these historical moments and historical records that we are familiar with.”

The story you remember from history class is not, should not, cannot, be the only story.

The overarching question Walters spent years contemplating was: “How functional is our democracy?” And beneath that was yet another question: “What makes someone visible or un-visible?” By “un-visible,” Walters doesn’t mean “invisible”; rather, she refers to the people we have the ability to see, but whom we choose not to recognize. All of MULTIPLY/DIVIDE centers around this distinction. “How do I become visible or not visible to people in my day-to-day experience?” Walters asks herself throughout this book. “How [do I make myself] more open to seeing people that I may have dismissed, ignored, or written off as a character of a trope of something I thought I understood? How do I make it so I learn to see better?”

Keeping a sharp eye becomes even more vital when one considers the number of race-motivated murders in America, and the disturbing or absent coverage of the deaths of black men and women in the mainstream media. The onslaught of violence grew all the more visible to Walters when she became a mother while writing MULTIPLY/DIVIDE. “I don’t know if [my newfound motherhood] was any more remarkable than anyone else’s,” Walters says, “but it certainly was one of those moments [when my] thinking was reset.”

In her “attempt to bring to light some of the contradictions about American identities and aspiration,” Walters employs a mix of genres. In fact, the introduction outlines which essays in the collection are fiction, nonfiction, and lyric essays, “a form that blends poetry and prose, memoir and reporting, actual and imagined events.” Why the combination? Why not just all fiction or all nonfiction? Why not poetry, like her previous books TROY, MICHIGAN and LONGER I WAIT, MORE YOU LOVE ME? “I make [these] categorizations because I think they are important,” Walters writes. “But I also make them with a bit of pause, because the border between nonfiction and fiction—while seemingly clear as black and white—is often porous enough to render the distinction as irrelevant.” Since the same could be said about the real and the surreal, as Walters points out, she hopes to address “nuances as they unfold place by place, argument by argument, and story by story,” rather than limit herself or her subject to a single genre. “I’m of the mindset that I just try to write down what I’m obsessed about and worry about how it fits into the larger puzzle later,” Walters tells me.

Sarabande Books, Walters’ publisher, frequently releases works of formal complexity. When I ask Kristen Radtke, Sarabande’s managing editor, about the form of MULTIPLY/DIVIDE—whether people will understand once it’s a thing out in the world—she says, “It’s easier to market things if you can say, ‘This is exactly what this is about,’ [but] what’s interesting about [Walters’] book is that it’s associative in the way our minds are.” It’s not one of those books that’s easy to pitch, but the writing itself will make its difficult subject matter more digestible. “You never really feel like you’re being preached at, but you feel like you’re living her experiences with her,” Radtke says. “She’s really talking about a lot of issues that we’re all thinking about, the way Americans need change.”

Radtke says that giving a bold but largely unknown writer like Wendy S. Walters a home “makes her feel like she’s succeeding.” Plus, “most of our authors that move on to larger houses still remain friends to Sarabande.” It truly seems like a family, especially when Radtke tells me that “we are actually a staff entirely of women,” which is unicorn-rare for the industry. “It’s kind of an amazing gift to be part of a team of forward-thinking, progressive women,” Radtke says. “It’s something that I never thought would be possible.”

What both women—Walters and Radtke—seem to be advocating is that we should not keep our biases about what is or isn’t possible buried, but that we should dig them up and hold them to the light. The hope? That acknowledging and assessing the mistakes in our own thinking can help craft better futures.

interview w/ mary karr

This interview was originally published at BrazosBookstore.com on 8.13.15

 

Fantasy is not my jam. Never has been. While my peers grew up reading HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS, I went to the library to root around in other people’s memories. Memoirs (which I swear used to be called autobiographies), diaries, biographies, letters—I wanted to be tethered to something real.

Mary Karr is the first person that made me feel like I could someday actually write a memoir. Me, Annalia, from middle-of-nowhere, Wisconsin—not Annalia, the two-time Olympic Gold gymnast or Annalia, inventor of the truly silent ceiling fan. For the past three or four years, Karr has been my older Southern sister, teaching me how to be tough by being that much tougher.

All this is in my head when I’m reading through Karr’s new not-quite craft book, THE ART OF MEMOIR, and trying to think of questions to ask her when I have my allotted thirty minutes of her time, three days before this article is due. I want to try to think of something “good,” but mostly what I come up with is things I know I don’t want to ask, questions that I’ve seen Karr’s fellow memoirist Nick Flynn answer a thousand fucking times: Is it hard to write about yourself? How much of it is actually true, though? Is that really how you feel? Why are you so deep?

So I keep reading, searching the text for clues. Then, there it is, a gift: Karr calling herself a misanthrope.


Perhaps Karr has said that about herself before, but THE ART OF MEMOIR is the first place I’ve seen it, and also the most conspicuous context for it to appear. Because the task for every memoirist—past, present, and future—is to wrestle with forgiveness, both for herself and the co-stars in her life. In fact, according to her new book, Karr’s friends have described the memoir process as “a major-league shit-eating contest [that]…wrenches at your insides precisely because it makes you battle with your very self—your neat analyses and tidy excuses.”

This is what I want to know: if the woman who wrote LIT—the one that got down on her knees in a bathroom stall and prayed to get sober and stop “feeling like such an asshole”—actually couldn’t care less about me, or anyone besides her kin. In my enthusiasm, my question—are you really a misanthrope?—seems more like an accusation than what it really is: confusion.

Fortunately for me, Karr seems more curious than offended. She asks me for my definition of the word then checks Google to confirm. Alas, misanthrope is what it always was, a person that hates humanity. Karr says what she actually meant is that she’s a hermit—but it’s hard to tell since the next words out of her mouth are, “Without a spiritual practice, I think I’m somebody that could kill everybody on the subway.” As I blink and type, she says, “Like all writers, I need a lot of quiet and a lot of solitude.”

I ask her more about New York, if being in that mass gets overwhelming, and she says that NYC actually “increases my humanity. You can’t go through the city double barreled and have a good result.” Sure, there are “some days New York wins.” On those days, “you get splashed by a bus and you can’t get a cab and your subway car doesn’t work and somebody jostles you, and you just get beaten up by it,” though Karr also tells me that most days are not like that. “Most days, it works like a little humming machine.”


When we turn to THE ART OF MEMOIR, I ask her if there was anything about this particular moment in time that prompted her to write a book like this one, one that instructs as much as it shares. In true Karr fashion, she tells it to me uncensored: “Basically, when somebody offers me money, I will write a book. I’m a real whore that way.”

However, Karr is not unqualified. She’s been teaching creative nonfiction for thirty years and during my lifetime has been considered the mother of the modern-day memoir. Her debut memoir, THE LIARS’ CLUB, “spent more than a year at the top of the New York Times list.” THE ART OF MEMOIR, though, is not about her own ego. In the preface, she writes, “As a grad student thirty years back, I heard [writing a memoir] likened to inscribing the Lord’s Prayer on a grain of rice. So I still feel some lingering obligation to defend it.” She tells me that she hopes the book will make someone not only “a better reader of memoir but also a better reader of their own memories and their own lives.” If possible, she’d like to help change the conception that writing a memoir is a “trashy activity compared to the exalted [act] of writing a novel.”

As an author who is active on Twitter, I ask Karr about social media and memory. “People keep trying to make a parallel between memoir and social media,” she says, “[but] I think they’re the opposite.” To her mind, if social media is reductive, books are deeper, expansive. “Moments yawn open and expand and yield up a kind of whole variety of experience based on your inner life, based on how you feel inside,” she tells me. “So it’s not like apples and oranges, it’s like candy and steak.” Social media is “bubbles on the surface.”


Though most everyone still thinks of Karr as a Texas girl, she says she doesn’t come back so much these days. Her accent, too, isn’t nearly as thick as I always imagined it to be—“Everybody always expects me to sound like I’m on hee-haw or something,” she says. She reminds me that she left the Lone Star State when she was a teenager.

“I’m one of those people that I could live in the country or on the ocean, but I pretty much love New York,” she says. “I’m one of those people that fits in there a little bit. I mean, so far as I fit in anywhere, I fit in New York.” Why? Because even for someone like Karr, “people don’t pay that close of attention. You get to look at a lot of people.” That “endless array of people” allows her to have a wide range of friends, from social workers and blue-collars to “some rich people.”

“I know a couple of writers,” she says, “but I don’t mostly hang out in a writerly scene.” Except George Saunders—she mentions him fondly throughout our conversation. “My friend George Saunders,” she calls him, as if it were some person I don’t know, a John Smith that lives across the street from her, who I will never meet. She tells me Saunders quit doing social media, which makes her contemplate doing the same. “He might be right,” she says. “I can sort of imagine quitting doing it.”

Then again, she says, “It’s sort of interesting, seeing what flows through your head.”