Amy Berkowitz graciously agreed to collaborate on a Keep Writing postcard. As a writer, and a clear and direct asker-of-questions, I thought she might bring something interesting and new to the series. Having asked illustrators, designers and letterpress printers to come up with something, I thought might be interesting to work with someone could frame a question better than I can.
Amy is the author of Tender Points, the curator of Mondo Bummer, an organizer of Sick Fest and is working on a new manuscript about rape. She developed the idea for this month's postcard--a seder plate with room for the recipient to tell their story through food. She also agreed to answer a few questions.
- How would you introduce yourself? I'm a writer living in a rent-controlled apartment in San Francisco. A few years ago, I wrote a book of lyric nonfiction about chronic pain and sexual violence, and now I'm working on a novel about the ways we succeed and fail at supporting rape survivors. Sometimes people who ask me what I write about do not want to stick around and hear that answer! I described the novel to a guy at a wedding last year and he actually started retreating from me as I answered him, walking slowly, sideways back to the dance floor.
- I know a little about Mondo Bummer--can you explain it for the people? Mondo Bummer is something between a poetry press and a mail art project. I started it when I was in grad school at University of Michigan. I really disliked the program's closed-minded approach to poetry, and I felt isolated there. So I started a poetry press that published work I thought was important, even if my grad program might have thought otherwise. The first 44 Mondo Bummer books were 5 pages or fewer of corner-stapled letter-size paper, folded in an envelope. That's the joke, it's a bummer, the production values are shitty. Then I made some traditional attractive-looking chapbooks because I got bored with the shitty aesthetic. It's been a wild ride. I'm taking a break from Mondo Bummer to focus on other projects but it will always be part of my life.
- Do you have a dedicated work space and if so what does it look like? Is it your ideal space or what would your ideal workspace look like? Like a cat, I gravitate towards sunny spaces and bring my laptop / projects there. My current workspace is in a room that doesn't get a lot of light, so I'm working on changing that.
- What is your writing practice like? Do you stick to a rigid daily schedule or something more flexible? I don't have a strict writing schedule, but it's something I'm moving towards. It feels more helpful to have a regular writing practice for a novel versus something shorter / more fragmented. I try not to let myself feel guilty for not writing "enough." So much of the work of writing is thinking... talking... living.
- Your book Tender Points is about trauma, sexual violence and illness. I know you have toured and been invited to read from it around the country (and in Lithuania?!)--how do you prepare to discuss personal trauma over and over with strangers? I'm so excited to give a workshop at the Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius this summer! I need to check with them about logistics. I think the "over and over" is the key. The more I talk about this difficult-to-talk-about stuff, the more comfortable I feel with it, the more distance I gain from the immediacy of the material. I'm starting that process over with the new book; now it's my turn to deal with how painful it is to write about the ways we let each other down after rape, which is a whole other area of trauma. And finally I'll say that it feels better to talk about this stuff than NOT to talk about it. As painful as it is, I think it's good to start the conversation.
- As a kid I read a lot, though thinking about it, I read the same books over and over. Now I listen to a lot of audiobooks--sometimes the same one over and over. One year the only books I read was Tender Points and Dune. Do you have any recommendations for a lapsed reader like myself? Yes! Jenn Pelly's 33 1/3 book about The Raincoats' self-titled album (very inspiring look into an ardently feminist punk band that did things their own weird way, by consensus, with passion and sincerity). Lucia Berlin's A Manual for Cleaning Women (some of the most beautiful, funny, sad short stories I've read, in a very distinct conversational voice). Myriam Gurba's Mean (lively lyric memoir that does a beautiful job talking about rape and its aftermath, among other things). And Andrea Lawlor's Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl (a gender-fluid romp through queer subcultures of the '90s, furnished with spot-on period details).
Amy Berkowitz developed the concept and wrote the text for Keep Writing number 106, in your mailbox now if you are a subscriber. (if you are missing out, subscribe here) . You can find links to some of her writing and more information about Tender Points at amyberko.com.