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 Katie Jean Shinkle, whose recent book Our Prayers After the Fire has been described thusly:
“When I finished reading Our Prayers After the Fire I saw that my fists were clenched tight. I’d been trying to grab a fistful, punch my way in. I wanted to get inside this book, figure out how it did what it did. I felt grateful and jealous, two of my favorite emotions when reading. Now my fists are open, my palms out. Katie Jean Shinkle is a writer who makes you beg for more, more, more.”
“Our Prayers After the Fire‘s exquisite discontinuation lays waste to the tired turns of conventional fiction. Every sentence is a wonder here, every gesture is fresh, and Katie Jean Shinkle has given us a book that’s as wacky, consecrated, and as unsettling as a fever.”
“Katie Jean Shinkle performs extraordinary feats of emotional and narrative funambulism in Our Prayers After the Fire. Her linguistic high-wire dexterity is gorgeous and devastating in equal measure. It is, in fact, the painful deadpan beauty of the prose that will knock you to your knees and allow you to feel things you may never have felt. Prepare to be happily shattered.”
What does your book do and how does your book do it?
Our Prayers After the Fire is a haunting disappearing act, documenting what vanishes eventually and indefinitely. The cartography of the book maps violence, queerness, childhood and childhood trauma, poverty narratives, despair and disrepair. It is also a mapping of the smallest moments of joy, of vast human-ness, of what it means to survive and to be alive. There are spaces where ghosts reside, both real and imagined. There are spaces of magic. There are spaces of suffering and mess. It is dirty, domestic realism. All of this is explored through the lens of a shared consciousness, a “we,” a duo of girls whose identities and roles (sometimes older/younger sisters, sometimes conjoined twins, sometimes lovers) shift consistently. A “we” not as an in sync greek chorus of voice/s and experience/s but an interacting collective, anchored and fluid, creating and carrying the shape and echo of the narrative.
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?
The book’s creation is profoundly rooted in Fluxus art. While the work itself is not in direct conversation with Fluxus, the book was created, in part, by a Fluxus influence based practice. I was in heavy research around the Fluxus movement throughout the entire creation of the work. I ended up engaging in experiments and “happenings” both solo and in groups and the “results” ended up being a significant substantial part of the work. (Some experiments were less Fluxus based and more akin to CA Conrad’s somatic poetry rituals.) I was highly influenced by artists Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, George Maciunas, and Alison Knowles. As far as conversation with writers and writing goes, I feel that Our Prayers After the Fire is in direct conversation with the work of writers such as Katherine Faw Morris, Amelia Gray, Lindsay Hunter, and Alissa Nutting. The work of these writers explores all the problematic elements of its own course and study of dirty, domestic realism, work that is in itself in deep conversation on so many levels with magic, trauma, suffering, joy, and humanity.
Katie Jean Shinkle is the author of two novels Our Prayers After the Fire (Blue Square Press, 2014) and The Arson People(Civil Coping Mechanisms, forthcoming), as well as four chapbooks. Other work can be found in LIT, Barrow Street, New Orleans Review, FLAUNT Magazine, and elsewhere. She serves as Associate Editor of Denver Quarterly.