Those of you who already know about Tin House‘s stellar showing in the 2013 VIDA Count (Viva la VIDA!) will not be surprised to learn that the latest issue features fabulous work by a number of women, including Cheryl Strayed, Maggie Nelson and newcomer Tiffany Brierie. In fact, everything I’ve read in the new issue has me wondering all over again about that Dwight Garner crack last week likening Tin House to an “ex-girlfriend who lucked her way into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.” (What, did Rob Spillman pee in Garner’s punch bowl or something?)
My favorite thing about this issue, by far, is Dana Spiotta’s interview with Rachel Kushner. I’m a huge fan of both of these women. After Stone Arabia, I will read anything Spiotta deigns to put on paper. That book was like reading a transcription of my own late night musings translated by someone ten times cooler and more subversive than me. Kushner’s work I’m less familiar with. I’ve only recently picked up The Flamethrowers and am, so far, finding it as interesting as everyone promised. But, honestly, I didn’t even have to read her work to be a little bit awed by the “potency” and “seamless confidence” of her authorial persona, which has helped kickstart a much-needed conversation about what “women’s work” needs to look like to be taken seriously.
There are so many reasons to go out and buy this interview. Buy it if you’re a fan of Spiotta or Kushner; buy it if you’re interested in female writers who are actively working against stereotype; but–most importantly–buy it because it’s likely to make you a better writer.
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Kushner on what it takes to be seen as a “relevant” artist versus what it takes to be seen as a serious novelist:
Art is a conversation, an homage, and a rebuke–always–of what came before it. Otherwise, it is naive. It is “outsider art,” which is a world of wonder and a different kind of relevance, but it is not the (somewhat small, and closed) world of contemporary art. The novel is different on a lot of levels and for many reasons. The novel that destroys tradition formally looks something like an experiment., and it remains that: a novelty. The novel cannot dematerialize into gesture, unwatched performance, into nothing, as art can, and has. It remains a telling. It remains a book, written in sentences. Its newness then must operate in an entirely different way. Maybe part of this is because of narrative . . . [it] is a more conservative form than art or music. What is the John Cage of the novel? It doesn’t really exist . . .
Another difference between art and literature is that a writer can be in deep conversation with a seventeenth-century novel or with ancient Greece, with medieval poetry, and still produce something “fresh” and “strange” and “unique.” A writer does not need to be in dialogue with her contemporaries. She does not need to destroy what came before in order to produce a work of originality . . . If the logic of art is a linear trajectory or burn and rebuild, the novel is maybe circular, or zigzag. Or it produces a psychotic pattern of no-pattern. Actually I wish only for no pattern. I wish for a moment like 1922. Let’s be bold in our art, you and I.