Newtown Literary Contributor: Kate Zimmermann

Writer Kate Zimmermann’s story “Bon Goût” was featured in Issue #4 of Newtown Literary.   We interviewed her about her writing, and her answers are below. 

What is your relationship to Queens?
I’ve lived here for eight years. After I graduated, I lived in Brooklyn for two years in a 60-square-foot half-bedroom that I suspect was previously used to house the dog (it was covered in claw marks). I paid almost as much there as I ended up paying for my studio in Astoria, where I live now. I’d love to live in Astoria forever if possible, but every time my lease is up, I get nervous. There’s an artisanal chicken-and-biscuits place here now, after all.

How would you describe the writing you do?
I work in publishing, but of the prescriptive non-fiction variety, so I’m fascinated by the different ways that writers can communicate information. Sometimes I find contemporary literary fiction frustrating. I tend to believe that stories should have a story, even if it isn’t fully told. I love comics, where story is inescapable, even if it’s abstract, like in a Michael DeForge comic. I tend to like magical realism because I think readers can be complacent and make lazy assumptions when you give them the standard tropes of literary fiction. I think in any kind of writing, a reader needs to, if not be surprised, then certainly to be knocked off-balance.

How did you come to writing?
I don’t think there was a time when I didn’t make up stories. I studied writing in college, too, but gravitated mostly toward language poetry and other stuff fixated on construction rather than expression. I just had a talk with a friend of mine about how sometimes we hide in abstraction to escape failure, and I think that was part of it. I interned at a poetry journal while I was in school, and I felt so much despair at what was coming in — it seemed like pointless reflection. Squirrels at the bird feeder in the morning kind of stuff. I wanted to write something like James Dickey’s “For the Last Wolverine” (“How much the timid poem needs / The mindless explosion of your rage”) but I never really got there. However I do think it made me a better writer of jacket copy for books about IBS and crystal divination, so that’s good.

What inspires you?
The New York Public Library is so amazing. I read all the time, and sometimes I read things that are very, very good. Recently I read Nights in the Gardens of Brooklyn by Harvey Swados and even though a lot of the stories aren’t great, the title story is. I like to read about what it was like to live in New York City at different points in time so that in theory I’ll have a more nuanced view of this place beyond “Well, artists used to live here and now they can’t because it’s too expensive.”

What does it mean to be a writer in Queens?
I think it’s exciting to be here now. In Brooklyn I felt like the rules were already written. There was already a hierarchy and a rhetoric and you can’t pick up a book without reading about some literary dude in Fort Greene or whatever. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. made me want to die a million times. I hated it so much. People make the assumption that Queens is just going to become another Brooklyn, but I don’t think that’s true, chicken and biscuits notwithstanding. There were people here before me who are still here, living. I feel like people live here, and I like that, because I want to live here too.

What writing project(s) are you currently working on?
I’ve been reading a lot of diaries. I read The Journals of Spalding Gray and Anne Truitt’s diaries, and I’m Very Into You (which wasn’t a diary but an email correspondence between Kathy Acker and McKenzie Wark, but read like two diaries). Then The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits. Then I read Josep Pla’s The Gray Notebook, which was his diary written in Barcelona in 1919-20. That one is really wonderful. So, during the summer my company offers half-days on Fridays, so I’ve been using those days to wander around and then write long diary entries. At the end of the summer I’m going to self-publish the ebook, which I’m going to call Summer Fridays. Then in the fall I might switch to Mondays, but I’m not sure.

And, finally, my favorite question: What should I be asking you that I didn’t?
I’d love to know the answer to “What’s the best book about Queens?” I haven’t read many!

Thanks, Kate!

Readers, mark your calendars:

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  1. Pingback: Newtown Literary Contributor: V. Joseph Racanelli – Newtown Literary

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