2013 Contest: An Interview with Nonfiction Judge Jenny Boully

Jul 30, 2013 | Archive, Interviews

Interview by LEIA PENINA WILSON

Black Warrior Review: If you were to be trapped/stuck/magically transported (or synonym of choice) in a fairytale, which fairytale would it be? I’m always irrationally afraid I’ll be transported (you know because of magic) into some random dimension/time & I’ll be without a good pair of tennis shoes or practical traveling clothes. So, what would you be wearing in this fictive ‘verse?

Jenny Boully: I continue to be drawn to the story of Hansel and Gretel. I love the pull between love of parents and the desire to be free of that bond, the “caretaker” who loves you and feeds you only because they want to eat you, and the forest that is both inviting and threatening. I love how the children both ruin and save themselves, how they use their wits for this, how in the end they only want candy and to be children after all. They want their homes and family. I don’t think I would want to make preparations; I think I would want to, just as Hansel and Gretel did, improvise, problem solve, and make do.

BWR: Which word do you most love? (My favorite word is anemone because it took me years to learn to pronounce it correctly & it rolls everywhere in your mouth at once. Also: jellyfish). And is there a word that simply affronts your sense of rightness?

JB: Is it possible for one word to fill both of these roles? My husband says that I say “rotten” often. I don’t realize that I do this, but apparently I do. So apparently it must be my favorite word. My least favorite word is the word “rotten” in the Thai language. It sounds a bit like our word “now” but sharper and deeper in the back of the mouth. You kind of gag just to say it, I feel. Simply hearing it makes me want to vomit.

BWR: What kind of writing excites you? When you open up a journal what do you want out of the work (specifically the nonfiction) in that journal? What keeps you engaged in a particular piece?

JB: I like work that is imagistic and meditative rather than narrative and explanatory. I like impressions, watermarks, the feeling of fleetingness. I tend to dislike dialogue and getting the facts out right away. Work that excites me tends to have a deep attachment to its subject, exquisite prose, spiraling syntax, a commitment to how it is said and not merely on what is said. It flutters about its core; it merely hints at what that core might be. I like things to be decidedly messy; I tend to distrust the perfect, the pretty. I want to see the mistakes in things, the misalignments, the forced splicings.

BWR: Your work is beautifully lyric, the attention to the sentence & the love & lore in your words is staggering. How do you balance the lyric & the narrative arches in your work? I think I’m asking for your secret. This question might not be answerable.

JB: Thank you! I don’t think I have a secret, but I do hate the backspace button; I tend to not take anything back. I trust the first turn of things and cut only when absolutely necessary. I go forward with the belief that there will be something there at the end. If I lose my trail, I lose my trail and stop foraging. I never force the writing; when I do, it becomes untrue.

BWR: What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream? If you don’t like ice cream, what’s your dessert of choice?

JB: I adore ice cream in many flavors, but I particularly enjoy lavender ice cream, which most people find disgusting. I’m really big on vanilla and chocolate, too. I also enjoy gelato and custard.

BWR: What’s the most enjoyable piece of writing you’ve encountered in the last (oh let’s say) 6 months? & what hooked you about it?

JB: Amy Leach’s Things That Are is simply exquisite: its sentences, its fancies, its subjects.

BWR: Who do you claim as your literary foremothers/forefathers?

JB: I don’t make any claims, but here are some of my favorite books/writers: Lawrence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Kathy Acker’s Pussy, King of the Pirates, Roland Barthes, Heraclitus, Don QuitoxeMoby Dick, Galway Kinnell’s The Book of Nightmares, Berryman’s Dream Songs, Mary Gaitskill, Auden’s “Journal of an Airman,” Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Nabokov, J.M. Barrie, Lewis Carroll, Joan Didion, Annie Dillard, and I’m sure there are many more that I’m leaving out. More importantly, I can claim my teachers: they have taught me, and I am extremely grateful for all they’ve exposed me to.

BWR: What’s the most difficult challenge you’ve ever faced in writing a piece, or just in writing, and how did you overcome it?

JB: I am in the biggest writing challenge of my life right now: trying to write with two small children. I am nowhere near out of it. I do not think I will overcome it, but rather I will have to wait until my children are more self-sufficient. I do not have the type of employment that affords childcare, so I have to wake up early or sleep late if I am to write at all, but when I only get a few hours of sleep each night as it is, I have to sacrifice the writing, obviously, in order to stay sane and alive. Of course, I realize this answer is more about nuts and bolts and the empirical side of things. When it comes to the creative process, I don’t tend to think of challenges. For me, the challenging part of being a writer is always—and this is with or without children—the empirical side of things: having time, having space, having the opportunity. I know many mothers who try to find the right balance between their work and their children; I do not think I have to do this. It is time for me, right now, to be a mother, and I am delighted by that. I have the rest of my life to write, but my children will never be as small as they are right now.

BWR: What environment/space do you prefer to write in?

JB: I prefer to write in my own home, at my desk, and I prefer this desk to be by a window. I prefer these things, but I don’t have these things right now. The current apartment is cramped, and I have no office. My desk right now is next to a heap of toys and a play yard. Someday, I will have a lovely desk and a beautiful view in a quiet office. I have faith in this. I have to have faith in this.

BWR: What’s your favorite savory dish?

JB: Thai noodle soup with a beef or pork broth and large noodles.


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