5 Questions for Hub City's Next Writer-in-Residence
What excites you most about Spartanburg and the Writers House program?
Upstate South Carolina has become a home away from home for me, and given the Writers House, and Hub City’s mission more generally, to focus on place-based writing, I’m most excited about thinking through some issues I’ve been wanting to tackle in new work. I’m not sure exactly what shape my next bigger project will take, but I do know that it will be thinking largely about queerness and the South. Also, to be surrounded by so many talented, committed writers always motivates me to write more and do more for my community.
We’re a very place-centered organization. You’ve spent much of your life abroad and have plans to continue work on your travelogue while here. Can you speak to how the idea of place intersects with your writing?
Absolutely! The writers that made me want to write have always had a clear sense of place in their work. Whether it’s Frank O’Hara’s New York, Joan Didion’s California, or C.D. Wright’s Ozarks (from where I also hail, a place that shares both cultural and linguistic kinship with Upstate South Carolina), the writers who draw me in are the writers who can draw me in and keep me in a specific, vivid place. I always try to do this, and for me, the struggle is to not let places be one-dimensional. My own rural Ozarks, for instance, could easily be painted as simply full of backwater hillbillies; but the reality—and it’s the reality of place that keeps readers going, I think—is much more complicated. Thus my Ozarks have to be complex; at turns they’re dangerous (racist, homophobic, and full of meth), and at turns beautiful (rolling hills and deep oak forests, limestone bluffs and more caves than any other region in the United States).
Every Writer-in-Residence has to give back to our community while in Spartanburg. Can you speak a little to your plans for community service while in town?
Since part of my own work this summer will be thinking about queerness in the South, I want to hold a regular queer artists meeting where we can discuss both our work through critique and also the unique challenges of being queer artists in the South. Additionally, I’m really excited to implement “writer-in-residence office hours,” which would just be time when I’ll be on the front porch (maybe with a pitcher of iced tea?) and folks can stop by and talk about writing.
Pop culture seems to play a big role in all of your work—poetry, nonfiction and scholarship. Can you talk about why you like exploring the relationship between so called “high-brow” and “low-brow” facets of our culture?
One of my favorite poetry teachers, Heather McNaugher, has a couplet in a poem that’s simply “Ziggy Stardust and American Graffiti. / Funny the things that save our lives.” This is especially true for queers. As Eve Sedgwick says, “the ability to attach intently to a few cultural objects, objects of high or popular culture or both…became a prime resource for survival.” So for me, I’ve always understood my own life (or my family’s lives) through the culture we consume—Michel Foucault and NASCAR, Honey Boo Boo and the novels of Toni Morrison and NPR. So at the end of the day, I’m a cultural whore; I love books (obviously) and films and art and music, so it all has to be in my work because my work is about me trying to understand the world.
Other than writing, what do you like to do for fun? Where might we see you on a Saturday afternoon this summer?
Lately I’ve become a bit of a gay bro and taken to Crossfit, and since I have friends in the area who Crossfit on the daily, I see that being a Saturday activity. Plus hiking with the South Carolina dog I’m adopting (more on him soon!) And full disclosure: I’m a coffee snob, and I already love Methodical Coffee in nearby Greenville, so I see myself spending some Saturday afternoons exploring local coffee shops for sure. Plus, most obviously, Saturday evening events put on by Hub City. Seriously, I’m so excited to spend the summer with y’all.