2016 Contest: An Interview with Nonfiction Judge T Clutch Fleischmann
T Clutch Fleischmann is the author of Syzygy, Beauty (Sarabande, 2012) and the curator of Body Forms: Queerness and the Essay (Essay Press). An Emerging Writer in Nonfiction at Columbia College Chicago and faculty member of the Stonecoast MFA, their work has appeared in venues including the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Brooklyn Rail, Fourth Genre, Kenyon Review Online, and the PEN Poetry Series. A Nonfiction Editor atDIAGRAM and Contributing Editor to EssayDaily, they are currently at work on a book-length essay as well as a collaborative installation art project.
Interview by KAYLEB CANDRILLI
Black Warrior Review: There are so many young writers storming the stage right now! Are there any books, collections, projects, writers, that you’re particularly excited about?
T Clutch Fleischmann: Always! I love Christopher Soto’s new Sad Girl Poems from Sibling Rivalry, and the tour they’re doing right now focused on ending queer youth homelessness. I’ve been enjoying reading Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, reading Imogen Binnie’s nonfiction when I can find it, and I just reread Dawn Lundy Martin’s Life in a Box Is a Pretty Life, which is amazing. I’m also excited for the first full-length from Ari Banias.
BWR: What writer or artist do you most look up to/has most influenced your work?
TCF: Probably the biggest influence over time has been Emily Dickinson, if only because she got a hold of me so early and never went away. The first essayist who became a favorite was James Baldwin.
BWR: What role does queerness play in your writing? Do you find it intrinsic? Political? A combination of the two?
TCF: My relationship to queerness has shifted over the past few years—it’s not a term I claim for myself anymore, although queer politics/art have been a huge influence on my life and work, and I’ve written extensively on queer topics. The shift for me has been about both the political and the intrinsic feelings of queerness (neither resonate in the way they used to). As my own life has aligned more with trans writing/art/culture/politics/sex than cis-queer versions of those things, I’ve found it most useful to leave queer behind. Anyway, that whole process feels very essayistic to me. Finding a question (queerness), working through that question with my body and my thinking and my experiences and everything I’ve read, then emerging on the other side with new questions. I would find it impossible to separate my writing from my life in any meaningful way, is maybe the best way to answer this.
BWR: What do you think you’ll look for in a winning piece? What attributes catch your eye, heart, and mind the most?
TCF: More than anything else, probably, I like when I read something that feels like I’ve never read it before. I’m greedy as a reader that way. I like both beautiful things and ugly things, but only when the beauty or the ugly are being leveraged in service of the thinking. I want essays that ask questions they can’t answer, but ask anyway. And I want resilience when I can find it.
BWR: Syzygy, Beauty is one of my favorite essays of all time. Can you tell us a little about how the project came to be, about your formal decisions, and perhaps about the decision to name it “an essay”?
TCF: I always think of my work as essays, although I know it gets read often through other genre lenses, which is fine. And my sense of the essay is influenced as much by poetics, visual art, dance, etc. as by work that is more traditionally essayistic. Syzygy, Beauty started in the year after I finished grad school, while I was traveling the country without a stable home. I wrote the prose blocks (many more than appear in the book) from this kind of unfixed position, where my sense of self was defined more by motion and change than by reflection and cohesiveness. Thinking of gender, sex, and landscape, I wanted to write from this motion, crafting an essay that allowed me to explore the self and the relation between the self and the world without feeling held by chrononormative narrative or other textures of writing that felt dishonest to my own experience. The prose blocks, and the simple fact that I could move them, felt like they let me do this.
BWR: As an active literary citizen, what are some of the most important things with which young writers can involve themselves?
TCF: I believe in forming literary connections outside of the academy and publishing institutions (although I still think engaging those institutions when they have something to offer us is smart, too). So, form a book club, print some zines, teach a workshop in a prison or youth shelter, buy a book for your friend—all those kinds of literary citizenship can generate incredible power through writing and reading.
BWR: Though I don’t believe in being guilty about pleasure, can you tell us a few of your “guilty pleasures?”
TCF: Nail charms, menthols, and romantic comedies. I have a dangly nail charm on my middle finger that keeps getting caught in the keyboard right now.
BWR: What’s your favorite lipstick? Nail polish?
TCF: I like to buy the drugstore brands of bright lipsticks (like green and yellow and neon purple) and then use them as eyeliner. For my nails I’m all about the Gelish.
BWR: Stranded on a desert island, you can take one book. What do you take?
TCF: The Oxford English Dictionary.
BWR: Song, essay, poem, and painting you can’t get out of your head this week?
TCF: I’ve been listening to Arthur Russell on my phone a lot. I just started rereading Julian Talamantez Brolaski’s Advice for Lovers, as I’m going to teach some of it. The essay I’ve been thinking about is Audre Lorde’s “The Uses of the Erotic,” and while not exactly painting, I’ve been enjoying thinking about Mark Aguhar’s No Top Needed lately.
BWR: Is there anything that you’re working on right now you’d like to share with us, get us stoked for?
TCF: Sure! Right now I’m trying to write this kind of talky, longer essay that plays with childhood imagination and this moment over the summer in Brooklyn that I realized, as it was happening, was almost a direct parallel to a scene I used to play out with my Barbies and Ninja Turtles as a kid. I’m also still still still trying to finish writing the book about ice that I’ve been working on for a few years, although it keeps morphing into different things lately.