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  • An Interview with Change-rae LeeBy Angela Hui
    Chang-rae Lee is the Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of five novels: Native Speaker (1995); A Gesture Life (1999); Aloft (2004); The Surrendered; and On Such a Full Sea (2014). Born in South Korea, Lee moved with his family to the United States at the age of three. He previously taught at Princeton University, where he was a creative writing professor and the director of Princeton’s Program in Creative Writing. Since 2016, he has been the Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Professor in the English Department and Creative Writing Program at Stanford University. This winter, fiction editor Angela F. Hui was able to speak with Lee over the phone. This interview has been edited for concision and clarity. AFH: The theme for our winter issue is Feast, so I want to start off by asking about your numerous essays on food. You’ve written in the New Yorker about the Phillips Exeter dining halls, Thanksgiving dinner as an immigrant family, eating sea urchin in Korea, and your wife’s family’s Italian food, among other food-related topics. Why are you drawn to writing about food? CRL: Well, it’s kind of hard to say, exactly. A lot of those times, the New Yorker has a certain theme for an issue. They write me and say, “Would you like to write about food?” and I say, “Hm, sure.” But I think it comes naturally to me, too, probably because of my upbringing, the way that our family life proceeded when I was a kid. We were an immigrant family without much of a social network, certainly no relatives, and we spent a lot of time in the private little world of our house. Back then you really didn’t have much to do, especially when the weather wasn’t very good. Of course, not all Asian people are into food, but my parents—particularly my mother, she enjoyed cooking, and I enjoyed hanging out with her. Little by little, I ended up starting to cook with her and thinking about food. AFH: One of the things that kind of predicated my day was that generally after breakfast my mother would ask me what…
  • An Interview with Carmen Maria MachadoBy Sabrina Li
    Carmen Maria Machado is the author of the bestselling memoir In the Dream House and the short story collection Her Body and Other Parties. She has been a finalist for the National Book Award and the winner of the Bard Fiction Prize, the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction, the Brooklyn Public Library Literature Prize, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the National Book Critics Circle's John Leonard Prize. In 2018, the New York Times listed Her Body and Other Parties as a member of "The New Vanguard," one of "15 remarkable books by women that are shaping the way we read and write fiction in the 21st century." She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the Guggenheim Foundation, Michener-Copernicus Foundation, Elizabeth George Foundation, CINTAS Foundation, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, and the Millay Colony for the Arts. She is the Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Philadelphia with her wife. Machado spoke with Advocate President Sabrina Li ‘20 by phone in early January. This interview has been condensed and edited for brevity and clarity. SL: One of the main questions we’re asking in our themed issue “Feast” is what happens when desire is given an audience? What happens when individual hunger turns communal? Your work deals so much with desire––queer desire, female desire, an archival desire to represent the marginalized––and by nature you are expressing those desires publicly. I’m curious what thoughts you have about the expression of desire in your work? CM: For me, desire is a kind of engine. It's the most interesting thing to me. And the fact that my desire is not met by so much art is definitely part of the engine of my creation. It's partially what brings me to the table––saying I feel this way about certain things, and I think other people do as well. And it's funny that you would talk about it in terms of a feast because I feel like the act of feeding someone else is one of…
  • An Interview with Pixy LiaoBy Sabrina Li
    Pixy Liao is an artist born and raised in Shanghai, China. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. For the past thirteen years, Liao has been working on the photography series “Experimental Relationship” with her boyfriend Moro. The four photos printed in this issue all originate from this series. Through her work, Liao has subverted ideas of gender, sexuality, performance, control, and race. Liao spoke with Advocate President Sabrina Li ‘20 by phone in early January. This interview has been condensed and edited for brevity and clarity. SL: “Experimental Relationship” has been an ongoing photo project for thirteen years. What inspired the project? How has the project evolved for you? PL: It started in 2007. It was one year after I started dating Moro, and I was studying photography. I think for me, it was the time to really look for some kind of photo project that I felt belonged to me. When Moro and I met, it was a different type of relationship than what I had before. He is younger, and he's my first foreign boyfriend, and also he is Japanese, which makes it a little complicated because Chinese and Japanese usually have that impression about each other. So I think what's more different about this relationship is I found his personality to be very different from other boyfriends or men I knew before. He's very open-minded and also he doesn't have a very strong opinion about the usual idea of how a man should be. Like usually when you think about Japanese men, they usually think, according to stereotype, that they're very arrogant, that they're very, you know, masculine. But he's not like that, and he's younger, so he relies on me a lot. So I think that kind of changed the way I work with him in photographs. In the beginning, when I was shooting this project, I was asking him to help me with my other photos. And he usually wouldn’t reject me. He would always try to help me without considering what you usually think a man will consider. So I think in the beginning…
  • An Interview with Sarah RuhlBy Eliya Smith
    Sarah Ruhl’s plays — dramatic worlds equal parts lyrical, sprightly, surreal, and strange — include The Clean House, Eurydice, Melancholy Play, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play). Ruhl has also published essays, letters, and, most recently, a collection of poetry, 44 poems for you. Among other accolades, she is a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award nominee, and has won a MacArthur Fellowship, a Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, and a Whiting Award. She teaches playwriting at the Yale School of Drama. Ruhl spoke with Advocate Publisher Eliya Smith ’20 in January at a pastry shop in Brooklyn. This interview has been condensed and edited for brevity and clarity. EOS: The issue is called Feast, so I thought that I would start with a question about consumption. In one of your essays, you basically argue that theater is the anti-consumptive art, because it's so tangible. But I feel like when you leave a play, you feel like you have consumed it, because it's all gone. Whereas if you put on a movie or if you're scrolling through Instagram, those things are still there after you've finished looking at them. Do you think there are certain kinds of plays that resist consumption better than others? Also, what's wrong with consumable theater? SR: I think the question to ask is, is there merch in the lobby? If there's merch, it's a consumable play. If there's no merch, less likely. It's a really interesting point you make about, you feel full after you leave the theater. In my mind, what's amazing is you feel full, but you haven't eaten. You know? It's like, you have communion, say, at church, and you feel full even though it's a little wafer. It's metaphorical eating, as opposed to real eating. EOS: I'm Jewish, but I believe you. SR: Well, I'm trying to think about Shabbat, then. EOS: We eat regular food. SR: Right, it's not a metaphorical challah. Louisa May Alcott's father had that utopia, Fruitlands. If you believe in a step beyond…
  • An Interview with Talia LavinBy Eliya Smith
    Talia Lavin '12 is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn. She has worked at the New Yorker, the Huffington Post and Media Matters, and written for the New Republic, the Nation, and the New York Times Review of Books, among other publications. Though Lavin first encountered the world of the far-right while fact-checking stories for the New Yorker, it was not until the the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, in 2017, that she began to publish her own coverage of the movement. "It was sort of a seismic national moment," she recalls, "and my experience of it was as a Jew, watching these anti-Semitic chants, and the horror of that." She published her first feature on the far-right shortly thereafter; her subsequent work has focused mostly on investigating and unraveling the mechanics of reactionary forces in the United States. She will publish a book on the subject, Culture Warlords, with Hachette Books in October. Lavin spoke with Advocate Publisher Eliya Smith '20 by phone in early January. This interview has been condensed and edited for brevity and clarity. EOS: In "Age of Anxiety," which you wrote almost a year ago, you had this great quote: "the state of the union, it seems, is scared as hell." Is fear still the predominating emotion in the United States, or do you feel like it's morphed into something else? TL: I think we are still definitely a nation led by fear. I think the predominant emotion that nationalists like Trump prey on is fear. And propaganda outlets like Fox quite actively stoke it. People on the other side of the spectrum are also feeling a great deal of fear. Fear towards the environment, fear of war ---  just a whole lot of terror in this world. And fear, as I am learning from my own experiences with panic disorder, can be really powerful. The answer isn't necessarily to tell people to calm down; I don't think the rational response to the world right now is to be calm. I do think there is a way of sort of cooling your fear…
  • An Interview with Young Jean LeeBy Devonne Pitts
    Young Jean Lee is a playwright, director, actor, and filmmaker. She is perhaps best known for the work she produced in collaboration with her theater company, including the critically acclaimed shows SONG OF THE DRAGONS FLYING TO HEAVEN, THE SHIPMENT, and UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW. In 2018, Lee became the first Asian-American woman to have her play produced on Broadway with her show STRAIGHT WHITE MEN. She received her MFA from Brooklyn College, and is currently an Associate Professor of Theater and Performance Studies at Stanford University. Poetry board member Devonne Pitts corresponded with Young Jean Lee by email in January 2020. DP: You’re widely considered “one of the best experimental playwrights in America” (Time Out New York) What and who initially compelled you to work within the avant-garde? YJL: I studied to be a Shakespeare scholar for almost ten years before I quit to work in experimental theater instead. My abandoned dissertation was a comparison of Shakespeare’s KING LEAR (my favorite Shakespeare play) and the anonymous KING LEAR that Shakespeare stole his plot from. I expected the original KING LEIR to really suck, but was surprised by how enjoyable a read it was. I found it much snappier and more coherent than Shakespeare’s version, which is sprawling, crazy, and messy. But Shakespeare’s version is massively more interesting. So I think the reason why I didn’t respond to mainstream contemporary theater was because the best of it felt much closer to KING LEIR than to KING LEAR. Entertaining and easy vs. wild and challenging. So weirdly, I think it was my love of Shakespeare that helped to drive me toward experimental theater. DP: Very rarely, if ever, is a play written without the intention of some sort of physical embodiment. Therefore, playwriting differs, to some extent, from the kinds of writing often published in this magazine. How do you position playwriting within the realm of literature? I mean, we’ve all probably had to read some…
  • An Interview with Anna WienerBy Emily Shen Natasha Lasky
    Anna Wiener is a New Yorker contributor who writes about tech culture. Her work has appeared in The New Republic, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, and others. Wiener’s first book Uncanny Valley, a memoir about her time working for Silicon Valley startups during the age of the unicorns, came out on January 14, 2020. Below is a transcript of a conversation which took place on January 16, 2020 between Wiener, former Advocate president Natasha Lasky ’19, and Features Board member Emily Shen ’20. This interview has been edited for length and clarity, and transcribed with the help of Otter.ai, a machine learning powered personal assistant that provides speech to text transcription. ES: Something featured in the book is your complicated relationship with the CEO of the data analytics startup. In that job, you likened yourself to a bot in describing how you catered to your mostly male customers’ requests. Later, when you are promoted, the solution manager describes your male coworker as strategic and you as someone whose strengths are that you “love our customers,” putting words in your mouth and almost commodifying your feelings. There were times where your care for your co-workers and CEO was seen as a liability, but it was like that was supposed to be transposed when it was effective, on to customers. AW: But still undervalued. ES: Yeah. And I wanted to know what you thought of that. When you said “bot,” it made me think of how AI is feminized a lot in media, and how you were kind of being like Scarlett Johansson’s character in Her — expected to serve people and not only do that, but in an emotional way. NL: Not even just in media — the personal assistant on your phone, Siri. AW: Alexa, perform affective labor. I don’t know if you have these men in your life — ES: Probably, yes. AW: There are men who will text me in ways that make me feel like a bot. They need some support — some emotional support. And I used to be much more willing to provide that when I was younger. I…
  • An Interview with C Pam ZhangBy Fiction Board
    C Pam Zhang is a fiction writer whose stories have appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, American Short Fiction, the Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. Her debut novel, How Much of These Hills is Gold, is forthcoming from Riverhead Books in April 2020. The Fiction Board caught up with her over email to ask a few questions about writing, revising, and feasting. What is your novel about, and what inspired it? When did you start writing your first draft, and what approach did you take to writing and revising? My novel is reimagining of the myth of the American West that centers, instead of white men, two children of immigrants who set out with the body of their dead father. It’s about home, grief, tigers and buffalos, mourning for a ravaged land. The kernel at its heart may be this question: what is it like to live with the visceral reality of a dead body? I had no intention of writing this novel. I woke up with the first images in my head and exorcised them in the form of a short story. Then I tried to avoid the project because, let’s be honest: why would anyone willingly embark on a novel? It is so long, so thankless, so grueling. You can’t want to write a novel; it must be a need, a hounding. I wrote my first draft quickly because I believe the goal of any first draft is to produce a heap of utter trash. That’s it. Nothing loftier. That’s the only way you’ll get through it without self-sabotaging by way of perfectionism. When you see your first draft as joyous garbage, it becomes much easier to throw great swathes away in revision, which is the real work of the novel. Probably ten percent of that first draft made it into the final draft; the finished novel is draft maybe, I don’t know, twenty? Which books or authors have had the biggest influence on your writing? I’m wondering, for instance, whether the journey your characters take to bury their father is meant to be a spin on As I Lay Dying? Are you intentional about situating your work within particular genres (e…
  • An Interview with Franklin LeonardBy Luke Xu
    Franklin Leonard ’00 is the founder of The Black List, an annual survey of popular unproduced screenplays. Leonard is a former member of the Poetry Board and served as Publisher his senior year. He spoke with Fiction Board member Luke Xu ’20 over the phone in early December. It was snowing. This interview has been condensed and edited for brevity and clarity. LX: I'm curious about your opinion on screenplays as a medium. They stand at this really weird intersection — they’re literature and also more than literature. They're words, and riveting to read, but not many people consume them like books, and a lot of people see them as a stepping stone to serve the end goal of creating another work of art, the movie. No other art form seems to work like that. What's your take on this? FL: It is a very strange form, and it's interesting because The Black List is really the only place where writing is celebrated for itself. When you think about the Best Screenplay award at the Oscars, that is an award given to a writer for how the movie ended up, not how the script was. There's any number of decisions that could turn a good script into a bad movie, right? So I think it is a distinct form in and of itself, but it is also the intermediary form on the way to a movie being made. I also think in the same way that when you look at a building, the architect didn't build the building, but they certainly did draw the blueprints. The screenplay exists in much the same space the blueprint exists in. So oftentimes, the builder and architect work together to create an extraordinary building. But without a good blueprint, odds are the building's not going to be very interesting. I think that the contributions of writers to film and television industry have been historically severely undervalued and that anyone who wants to build a business model around making profitable films needs to do a better job incorporating the contributions of writers in assessing whether a new movie or a…
  • A History of DysfluencyBy Eli Holmes
    It’s a strange word: dysfluency. A single word to describe all the repeated sounds and taut silences that come from the mouths of people like me who, for one reason or another, just can't quite say the words they want to say, the way they want to say them. It’s a clinical euphemism that feels as though it were designed to slide cleanly off tortured tongues. Perhaps it was: the circular flick my tongue makes as it enunciates the four soft syllables in succession feels so natural that I often think it must have been crafted with that feeling in mind. It’s certainly easier than its colloquial counterpart, stutter, a little machine gun which, after a couple decades spent mustering the sounds to explain yourself, feels like the vestige of a sort of linguistic imperialism: an exonym, imposed by those who need no word themselves. No one needs to describe themselves as a “non-stutterer”. But if those of us who stutter are dysfluent, everyone else must be fluent. Then, at least, we can impose a word on them, too. It's unclear exactly when I first had trouble speaking, but it must have been after I said my first word, rice, and before I finished my first year in school. My mother has fashioned a comfortable story for herself about my dysfluency. As she tells it now, my little head just had too many ideas flying around in it, and without the command of my tongue muscle needed to articulate them quickly enough, I found myself spitting out my thoughts in a slurry of soggy consonants. It’s a self-indulgent story. All I remember was that my first year at the Susquehanna School was defined by a verbal urgency, a sense that I had to shoulder my way into a muscular rhetorical arena where huge lips flapped noisily against each other as they argued over paint and construction paper. I started grade school at three, in a class of people double my size who looked at and shouted about me as if I were just really terrible at being a five-year-old. How was I meant to present myself in that…
  • Planned ObsolescenceBy Emily Shen
    1. One Saturday night in fall 2018, I was initiated into a satire publication that had recently accepted me as a staff writer. The initiation involved moving through a series of themed rooms staffed by current members. The theme was different kinds of assholes based on areas of study. There was a room full of theory bros (social sciences), a room full of brogrammers (applied STEM), and a room full of arthouse film snobs (humanities). Everyone congregated in one last room for the final party, where the initiates were branded in paint with a black “V” on their foreheads and officially inducted. I was originally unenthused about the whole thing, as it is gauche to care about things after one’s freshman year. You, a current member, had also told me that you weren’t initially planning on going. You were a brogrammer; you wore a Facebook vest and a Facebook hat and, I would later discover, Facebook socks. You introduced yourself to everyone as a postdoc at MIT. I introduced myself as a freshman who missed her high school boyfriend in order to ingratiate myself with my youthful peers. What initially made you attractive to me was that you weren’t a freshman boy and that you seemed attainable. “Facebook last summer, huh?” I yelled at you over the noise of the final party. “Yeah,” you said. “I was rejected from Facebook,” I said, in a way that came off as deranged and bitter (but was meant to be flirtatious). From seeing male teaching assistants for computer science courses melt in the hands of girls who sexualized their confusion to obtain homework answers at office hours, I bet that the best way forward was to emphasize my incompetence. Strategic as I was, you didn’t make a move until a few hours later: you expressed regret that I was a freshman and had a boyfriend. I told you it was a bit: that I was a junior, single. You made a big deal about calling me a liar. I defensively turned out my pockets to find my college ID card stamped with my upperclassman house affiliation…
  • Queer ReflectionsBy Eli Zuzovsky
    One may as well begin with the moment I sob on a stranger’s shoulder. It happens well into the second half of a two-part, seven-hour gay epic on Broadway. 24 hours earlier, I hop on the bus from Boston to New York, overworked and brokenhearted. Going off of the faint memory of a New Yorker piece I read about it, I Google The Inheritance. On the website of the British Telegraph, I find a review that promises “a state of emotionally shattered but elated awe” and defines the show as “perhaps the most important American play of the century.” This description seals the deal; I book my ticket before the bus leaves South Station. So, in retrospect, I have no right to complain—a stream of tears is exactly what I signed up for when I paid eighty dollars I didn’t have to witness gay men fall in love and break each other’s hearts for seven hours. Written by American playwright Matthew Lopez, The Inheritance operates on a simple premise: a reimagining of E. M. Forster’s novel Howard’s End, it follows a group of gay men in modern-day New York, two decades after the height of the AIDS epidemic. At the heart of the play are Eric Glass, a thirty-something activist and his partner, novelist-turned-playwright Toby Darling. The two live in a rent-controlled apartment that Eric inherited from his grandmother, a holocaust survivor who fled Germany. A few hours before he and Toby get engaged, Eric is notified of their imminent eviction, which threatens to disturb the peace of their Upper West Side domestic paradise. While Toby leaves town for work and falls for Adam, the leading actor in his play, Eric befriends Walter, their older upstairs neighbor, who tells him about his life as a gay man in the ‘80s. The Inheritance opened in March 2018 at the Young Vic Theatre in London. The reviews were ecstatic; within six months, the play transferred to the West End and went on to win four Olivier Awards, including Best New Play and Best Director (Stephen Daldry, the man in charge of hits like…
  • I Come Undone Above the SinkBy Lauren Fadiman
    By the spring of my senior year of high school, I had developed a real infatuation with dishwashing. This impulse had precedent: some years earlier, it was the thought of vegetable gardens that featured most prominently in my B-Block Geometry daydreams. In that particular fantasy, I would sink my hands deep into soil, wrench some mangled weed or other from the earth — find its roots raw and dripping with worms. Good morning! I would think, and there would be dirt etched there in the cracks of my palms. It was the menial labor fetish dream of my sophomore winter, a season plagued by chemistry tests and then the flu and then flu2 and then makeup chemistry tests — godknowshowmany, certainly more than I could count. And, dammit, all I wanted to do was harvest some zucchini. So the dishwashing thing was no surprise. There was something compelling to me in this gardening-adjacent image of myself, red-faced with exertion, hunched over a sink somewhere — somewhere commercial, fast-paced, where a thing like dishwashing could become as monumental a pursuit as the Oregon Trail or the Crusades or the building of Hadrian’s Wall. The ridges of steel-wool would cement themselves into the damp-flesh plaster of my palms, and I would be damned, damned good at my job. These were deeply reactionary fantasies, of course: I was rotting into textbooks by my senior year, salivating over the thought of work-sans-worksheets. It was a 21st-century pastoral fantasy for the educationally-privileged — to desire this seeming antithesis to essays and equations, to imagine oneself sweating out some kind of academic toxin in the fields or greenhouse or kitchen. I knew, as secondary school slowly waned from sight, that college would be much like the past four years had been: punctuated by overcommitment and over-investment — overly-competitive, overly-intellectual, overly-dramatic. I knew, too, that most of these themes would be the result of my own foolishness — my own masochistic academic and…