I N T E R V I E W S
Muddied Genre and Grass Roots
A few months ago our editorial assistant Allissa Hertz interviewed author Steven Dunn where he shared his thoughts on muddying genre and valuing all voices.
Allissa Hertz: Where were you first published and what was that experience like?
Steven Dunn: Foothills Magazine, the University of Denver’s literary journal. I remember feeling good seeing that it was in print. I got rejected from it about three times, so I finally got accepted my senior year. I don’t remember the exact feeling of it, but I feel some of the same feelings I have now, which is hard to explain. I’m happy something that I worked on is out there. It feels good to have that thing validated by other people.
AH: You cross a lot of boundaries in your writing when it comes to genre. Is genre important?
SD: That’s something I think about often. It’s important to me, because I know I publicly identify as a prose writer. I know I’m working inside of that, and I feel naturally influenced by poetry, so genre is important to me because I’m able to identify in one certain thing and make it odder by using other genres in that subject. It’s also a twist for me to call my books novels instead of experimental novels. I am honoring the work by calling them novels, but it’s also muddying the waters a little bit too.
AH: Are you interested in making people rethink genre?
SD: Yeah. I think it’s already rethought. It’s already muddied, but we don’t acknowledge that, so part of the way that I work is acknowledging that.
AH: What are some of your favorite places to read around Denver?
SD: I really like the Dikeou reading series and the F-Bomb. Still Cellars Distillery is up in Longmont. That is definitely one of my favorite places and Innisfree Bookstore in Boulder. I don’t read at Prodigy, because I don’t read at my own reading series, but I love it—not just because I run it—but I like their mission, and I like all the light in the big windows, and I like that it’s during the daytime, and it feels very welcoming to people. That’s one of my favorite places to listen to readings.
My least favorite is Syntax Physic Opera. It’s on Broadway. It’s a cool place, but it’s a music stage mainly and the room fills. The room is big, but then there is always noise going on next to the stage and it just doesn’t feel intimate, although we all like to have a lot of people at our readings. Counterpath is also one of my favorite places to read.
AH: What do you feel is missing from the current literary and visual art landscape? What do we need more of and more spaces for?
SD: I think we need more spaces for people of color, but that’s also linked to class to me. I think we need more bumpkins. We need more hood people, more rednecks, and more white trash writing. We need all of that and I think that’s missing. I’m not saying those terms negatively. I grew up around white trash and hood people and I feel like a lot of our voices are missing from literature and these public spaces and aren’t publicly valued as much.
AH: Do you feel like the market for writers is oversaturated?
SD:I don’t think it’s saturated. I think there is room. But I do think there is an oversaturation of a certain type of voice or a certain class. A lot of it is money driven. I’d guess in the US most of the people who by books are mid-age, mid-class to upper-class white women, so a lot of the books are pushed out for that reason, because that’s where most of the buying power is, so it’s all linked.
AH: What advice would you give to writers who are hesitant to share their stories knowing that maybe they don’t fit into that market?
SD: I would say that although the money isn’t there or a lot of the exposure, there are people who will benefit from your story. As small as my book was, people from my hometown read my book and a lot of people said, “I didn’t know how to talk about these things until I read this book.” I’m not saying I’m a great person or anything, but I’ve received some of the same stuff from art too. My advice is do it anyway, because there is someone who could benefit from it or even you could benefit from it in a way that makes you reevaluate and do some serious work for yourself or your community.
AH: Is there anything that you’re working on that you would like to share with the readers? Where can we find your work?
SD: I’m working on a novel now, which I’m struggling with in a lot of ways. I have a friend who asked me to write about her life but fictionalizing it. A lot of it is generational trauma and she’s doing a lot of research on her family. I’m writing the book as a woman, so I struggle with that aspect like do I even have a right to tell this story? I’m a dude. I have a lot of male privilege. Am I even aloud to do this? Is it responsible for me as an artist? But I have a social and artistic contract with her that I know what I’m doing is for.
AH: Is there anything else that you want to add? Anything on your mind?
SD: There’s something always on my mind. We have a couple lit fests, lit-crawl and lit-fests happening and I know the people who run these things are trying to do what they do and there are some limitations, so it can’t always be how I envision things to be, but a lot of our neighborhoods of color are disappearing in Denver and it seems like a lot of our grass roots art events are happening in well-established white neighborhoods, which bothers me a little bit. I wish things could be different on that end. And also, I have been vocal about organizers finding writers of color and I often refuse to do readings if I am the only person of color reading, because it doesn’t feel good. I don’t want to feel like a token. We need to work harder to be inclusive. Not just as a token situation, but as a public value, having readings with women and writers of color. I think more intersectionality and working harder. In art we claim that we oppose racist institutions, but it seems like we often recreate those things intentionally or unintentionally.
Steven Dunn is the author of the novels Potted Meat (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2016) and water & power (Tarpaulin Sky 2018)
He’s a faculty mentor at Regis University.
Learn more here
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