Welcome to my new micro-interview series, which focuses on recent releases that I’ve found noteworthy. Past entries are archived here.
In this series I’m asking writers to respond to the two questions I most frequently ask when I’m teaching a book in the classroom: (1) what is the text doing / how is the text doing it, and (2) with what does the text connect?
These questions arise from my particular approach to reading and critical analysis, which is deeply indebted to Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. As they put it, “Literature is an assemblage…a book itself is a little machine…writing has nothing to do with signifying…it has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come.”
So, without further delay…
I present Juliet Escoria, whose recent book Black Cloud has been described thusly:
“Reading the stories in Black Cloud is like getting punched in the throat; Juliet Escoria leaves you speechless. Her honesty teaches us that beauty can be found in violence, truth in pain, and life where we’ve always been afraid to look.”
—Benjamin Samuel, co-editor of Electric Literature
“Juliet Escoria is like a gutter-punk Grace Paley.”
—Adam Wilson, author of Flatscreen
“This book is like Julia Child meets Michael Jackson.”
—Mira Gonzalez, author of I will never be beautiful enough to make us beautiful together
What does your book do and how does your book do it?
I don’t know what the book does because I’m in the wrong position to evaluate that without bias. I can tell you what I hope the book does, though.
I like writing that says what it wants to say as quickly as possible. There’s a million amazing books, films, albums, people, cute animals, tasty meals, etc. out there, all demanding my time and attention, so I don’t want to read anything that takes fifty pages to get good. I’m thankful for when any stranger reads anything of mine, and I certainly don’t want to waste their fucking time.
I wanted to write down the memories that stuck with me the most, but I wanted to do it in a fictional way because, for me, the truth is more compelling if you’re allowed to mess around with it a bit. Most of these memories were troubling ones, things that made me strongly feel negative emotions (hence the “chapter titles”). The thing is, though— even when I was deeply miserable, I’ve always been able to find some love and beauty in my experiences, and although I saw the stories as being mostly sharp angles, I also wanted for there to be soft spots.
The pictures and videos— First off, I’ve always been into making visual art. I also like the idea of enlarging or splintering the reading of a text by assigning a visual to it. And I’m interested in the mythologization of self—my story as myth, my self as myth, my pain and my joy as myth. The pictures and videos seemed to encourage the reader/viewer to take the stories within as truth, although there’s enough conflicting pieces that, if you thought about it, there is no way for everything I’m presenting to be true, which is what happens with the best rumors and myths.
Having identified your book’s comportment, could you bring it into focus by describing its relationship to other texts? (By “texts” I mean any relatable objects.) Put another way: if we think about a book as a star in a constellation, or a node in a circuit, I’m interested in hearing about the constellation or circuit in which readers might find your book. Put yet another way: if we think about your book as contributing to particular conversations, could you describe those conversations and their other participants?
Black Cloud has the unabashed anger and ugliness of Eminem’s early albums, which is something that was important for me to keep whole because we’ve come to a point where it seems like everything has to be so fucking polite and tolerant and thoughtful to everyone else’s experience, to a point where everyone is apologizing for everything – and that feels oppressive and dishonest to me, so even though it’s pretty immature, I like the idea of writing something that is the literary equivalent to sticking your middle finger up while saying “Fuck the entire world.” Maturity is overrated, anyway.
Bey and I were having dinner one night and I was telling her how I wanted to make a video for each story in my collection, and she liked that idea and asked if she could use it for her new album, and I was like, “Of course, girlfriend!” so Black Cloud and Beyonce go more or less hand-in-hand.
It also has something very punk in it—the stories get in and get out like a two-minute Ramones song, and I don’t know how to take pictures or make movies, just like Sid Vicious didn’t know how to play any instruments, but I did it anyway.
I think it was useful that Marie Calloway’s book came out the year before, which helped to grease the rails for a book featuring a pretty girl doing ugly things.
I think it is impossible for my writing and work to not be influenced by Scott McClanahan, who is my husband and always the first eyes to see anything I make.
Also maybe corn poops. Corn poops and Black Cloud have a lot in common. The corn in the poop is the equivalent to the beauty in Black Cloud. Here is a picture of corn poop that my best friend (besides Beyonce and Scott), Sunny Katz, drew using MS Paint.