Category: Interviews

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Sarah Schulman: An American Witness
Part 2: Occupy Student Debt, and the Beauty of Being Uncomfortable

For many activists Sarah Schulman is an important source of meaningful and effective lessons in social change. For more than ten years, her and her long time collaborator Jim Hubbard have been interviewing members of ACT UP, for their ACT UP Oral History Project, ensuring the experience of the seminal AIDS activist group are lost in history. Earlier this year, The New York Times published Schulman’s deftly researched op-ed, “Pinkwashing” and Israel’s Use of Gays as a Messaging Tool to frenzied response. Later this year a slate of films, books and creative projects about the early days of AIDS, including United in Anger, a film produced by Schulman, and directed by Hubbard, will be released. Schulman’s influence cannot be understated.

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Lynne Tillman: Imagination, Art & the Internet

Interviewed by Liz Axelrod, Editor-In Chief

“She could do with her body what she wanted, everyone knew that; the body was just a fleshy vehicle of consequences. Her mind was virtual—free, even, to make false separations”— From “The Substitute” a story in Lynne Tillman’s latest collection, Someday This Will Be Funny.

As a New School Professor, Lynne Tillman brings a fresh angle to her courses. In her close reading seminar, students look at writing from many different angles: through the camera lens, via the film director’s eye, and into the novelist’s vision and writing process. As a fiction writer and essayist, Ms. Tillman’s work brings to mind freedom of expression, masterful creation and a love of language. Tillman’s novels include No Lease on Life, Cast in Doubt, Motion Sickness, Haunted Houses and American Genius, A Comedy. Her first collection of short stories, Absence Makes the Heart was followed by The Madame Realism Complex and This Is Not It. Her nonfiction work includes The Broad Picture, a collection of essays that were originally published in literary and art periodicals, The Velvet Years: Warhol’s Factory 1965-1967, and The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson and Books & Co.

Lynne Tillman will be reading from Someday This Will Be Funny at the 12th Street Online Launch at Barnes & Noble on Thursday, March 31 at 7:00 p.m., and discussing writing and media with Ross Kaufman, an Academy Award Winning documentary producer whose short film “Wait For Me” can be found by clicking on the Audio and Video link above.

12th Street Online crafted this interview over the internet, via email.

12th Street Online: You’ve studied theories of different media, such as film and photography, as well as writing. How has that affected how you approach the scope and scale of your work?

Lynne Tillman: All art forms have specific materialities, problems –scale, for instance, in a photograph, framing in both film and still photography. Painting is usually done on a flat surface, in a rectangle or square. Then there’s color, positive and negative space. Questions of time exist in all forms. So, thinking about these questions in various art forms and practices, I might subject my writing to them; I can borrow or steal an idea and try to adapt it, or be helped by ways visual artists have made their work. Other imaginations soothe me, and spark my own.

12th Street: Do you find that your stories favor certain “styles”—narrative distance from the subject, pace, length, time-frame, genre, etc., or does the style vary depending on the story?

TiIlman: I try to find a shape or style that fits the story I’m telling. But the story I’m telling necessarily develops along with the way it’s being told. Usually I have no idea of how I’m going to write it. I’m hoping to find it as I proceed, word by word. I consciously try to come up with ways of approaching a story that challenges me, in any way I can, mostly to keep myself interested.

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Mark Nowak Interview

Rebecca Melnyk, 12th Street Journal’s Poetry Editor read Mark Nowak’s work in Modern American Poetry class and was impressed with his experimentation. When she brought him to us as a potential interview, we agreed. Mark Nowak perfectly highlights our vision of Writing and Democracy and the writer’s place in the world.  His latest book Coal Mountain Elementary gives recognition and voice to downtrodden workers.  His work fuses poetry, prose, photography, film and music into a fascinating hybrid that provides a window into the struggles of the common worker. His unique views demand attention and raise consciousness and conversation up from the level of human experience – bypassing the gloss of mass communication. We hope you’ll enjoy and be enlightened by our latest 12th Street Online interview feature.  – Liz Axelrod, Editor-In-Chief

12th Street Online: You’ve said that when you began writing poetry, you were fueled by music. Does music still play a large part in what you write?

Mark Nowak: I first came to art-making as an electronic musician in Buffalo, NY in the early- to mid-1980s. The first band, Aufbau Principle (or Aufbau—German for construction or building-up) was a two-person group that I formed with a fellow undergrad student—we dreamed of being a U.S. version of Kraftwerk. We were living in a city that was absolutely, and sometimes literally, collapsing around our us. And that music was our soundtrack during that time. The second, a three-person group called People Have Names, tried to fuse that German krautrock tradition with early 1980s electronic and industrial music—Cabaret Voltaire, the Factory Records releases from Manchester, the Wax Trax records from Chicago, etc. Even my MFA thesis at Bowling Green in the late 1980s was (very bad!) a four-track cassette recording of a completely sampled, chance-generated text called Factors Other Than Frequency. Today, I still tend to think and create less like a poet and more like a musician at a multi-track recording system. Most of my work is composed of multiple voices mixed on separate tracks, all fused or articulated into one final artwork that might include testimony on one track, newspaper reports on another, photographs on a third, and rules of capitalization or pro-coal curriculum on another.

12th: Do you spend a lot of time editing what you write?

MN: The way I work is probably more time consuming at the research and construction stages than at the editing stage. I’ll spend literally hundreds and hundreds of hours researching—sometimes for projects that never see the light of day, like the year where I spent almost every day at the microfilm machines at the Minnesota Historical Society researching the I.W.W. led strike against U.S. Steel by iron miners in Minnesota’s iron range. Likewise with Coal Mountain Elementary, where I had to read and re-read more than 6,300 pages of testimony with miners and mine rescue team members at Sago, West Virginia, in order to locate just one of the voices in that book. I also spend a good deal of time, once that research is completed, working and reworking the construction or framework of the piece—usually on either an Excel spreadsheet or Microsoft Word table. Those spreadsheets or tables allow me to create an almost musical score or orchestration for the piece as whole; they allow me to see the overarching patterns and timings in the voices or tracks. Then, there are adjustments, changes… maybe that’s where “editing” comes in.

12th: In Shut-Up Shut Down many of your poems are based in recorded observations. In some of the poems, the prose unravels into disjunctive rhythm—is there something specific you are communicating? Is that the way these people sound to you?

MN: The form I was experimenting with most in Shut Up was the haibun, a form in which a prose block is followed by the haiku. Basho, of course, was the master of the form. And Fred Wah, a writer from Canada whose work I admire, brought the form back in ways I found to be quite innovative in his fabulous book Waiting For Saskatchewan. So, no, it wasn’t representative of how people sound but rather of the effects of neoliberalism and globalization on the manufacturing sector in the States in the 1980s (and in the new millennium in the final piece, “Hoyt Lakes Shut Down”). I was trying to capture that fracturing, that collapse, that disintegration of industry and community and self that I had been a witness to in Buffalo and Toledo and Detroit and the Iron Range, i.e., the “rust belt.”

Stephen Elliott Interview


Stephen Elliott, the author of seven books including The Adderall Diaries, and the Editor of the online literary site, The Rumpus, sat down with 12th Street’s Jennifer Sky to discuss the politics of writing and the lure of the website for the literary world.  This is the premier interview of 12th Street Online’s monthly author series.  Enjoy – Liz Axelrod, Editor in Chief

12th Street Online: What was the catalyst to starting your online literary magazine, The Rumpus?

Stephen Elliott: I was done with The Adderall Diaries—that was my seventh book—and I didn’t really have the urge to write another book. I wanted to do something else. I thought, “Well, I should get into editing,” because that’s kind of what I know how to do. If you write long enough, eventually you learn how to edit because editing is such a huge part of writing. So I thought I would start editing somewhere.

I was actually talking to Arianna Huffington about joining The Huffington Post. I had all these ideas—pages and pages of ideas—about how I wanted to build a book section for The Huffington Post and all these cools things I wanted to do with it. Then at some point I thought, “Well, it’s just a website. If I have all these ideas why am I giving them to Arianna Huffington?” You know, I’ll just do it myself. So I started The Rumpus. I didn’t know if I was going to make any money or if anyone would read it. That’s the same way I write. You start it and see what happens. It’s like I do everything.