Spotlight: Kate Schapira

Make Me An Offer for A New Position

Interview by Krystal Languell


Krystal Languell likes to taunt the interview for its formative textbook ways in the sense that she composes conceptual acts full of accidents and incidents which seem, in a simplified and intriguing way, to beg the questions: what should the interview do, is the interview a transcribed performance, and, is the interview its own medium or genre? That does not, in any way, make the conceptual Q-and-As she’s offering to readers any better than a traditional or mainstream interview; but it does spread a sheen on the inherent and implied boredom that can occur when two literary egos collide and force one another into their respective corners. Her project (which we’ll hopefully see more of) consists of electro-shocking an older set of questions which two different literary figures have already offered one another and then re-presenting away from its original centrifugal manner of fame, notoriety, authority, and (perhaps most importantly) patriarchy. She remixes the questions. This next batch takes a step past her previous interview in that it sets its framework less obtusely — this time, she takes on Jean Stein and William Faulkner. The interesting conspiracy behind this famous mid-twentieth century interview is that Stein offered it to The Paris Review in exchange for an editorial position there. Stein, then, got the job. Here, the wonderful Kate Schapira wears Faulkner’s loafers while Languell dresses, in part, as Stein. The following also reflects something else — that Krystal Languell is editor-in-chief of Noemi Press, which published Schapira’s poetry collection, The Bounty, in 2011.


JS: You were saying a while ago that you don’t like interviews.

KS: One of the reasons I don’t like interviews is because after the interview is over I start thinking about all the things I should have said or could have said better. How I could have given insight into my work instead of just babbling about bacon or trees or something. But I like this method of interviewing much better than the e-mail method, where it’s long-form and not really an interview.

JS: How about yourself as a writer?

KS: I think my self as a writer is my most alert, most thoughtful, most conscientious, most excited and most questioning self.

JS: Isn’t perhaps the individuality of the writer important?

KS: I think it is important but I also like to think about where a writer is in the honeycomb, and what are the cells that are touching the cells of your cell.

JS: And your contemporaries?

KS: I read my contemporaries maybe more than I read my non-contemporaries. I’ve definitely learned a ton from them, but when people ask me, “Who are your influences?” or, “Who do you love to read?” of course I can never think of anybody. I think if you look at my work you can detect my contemporaries in the DNA of it.

JS: Is there any possible formula to follow to be a good novelist?

KS: No.

JS: Do you mean the writer should be completely ruthless?

KS: No! The opposite. I feel that the writer should almost never be ruthless—well, I take that back. I should never be ruthless. I don’t know if I get to tell other people whether to be ruthless or not. But I think that ruthlessness presumes a kind of –if you’re going to be ruthless you’d better be very, very, very sure that you know enough to get to do that.

JS: Could the lack of security, happiness, honor be an important factor in the artist’s creativity?

KS: Those seem like a really different batch of things. Honor is really different than happiness and security. Happiness and security have to do with what you gather around you or what you have available to you. Honor seems very much restricted to what you strive for in what you do rather than what you strive to have. Security and happiness are so largely a matter of luck. I certainly don’t think they produce bad or good writing automatically. Honor in the sense of scrupulousness is very important.

JS: Then what would be the best environment for a writer?

KS: Any environment where people aren’t actively treating you like shit is probably a good environment for a writer.

JS: Bourbon, you mean?

KS: Yeah, bourbon is probably a good environment for a writer.

JS: You mentioned economic freedom. Does the writer need it?

KS: I don’t think anybody really has economic freedom in a world where money is used. No matter how much of it you have, I don’t think you’re ever free from getting ahold of it and being influenced by how it’s moving around and how much of it you have and if you have less of it than you had last week, or you have more of it than you had last week. Being constantly anxious about money is probably not that great for a writer in the same way that being constantly anxious about love or constantly anxious about your mom or something is probably not that great. Being constantly in one state is probably not that great either.

JS: Can working for the movies hurt your own writing?

KS: Probably.

JS: Does a writer compromise in writing for the movies?

KS: I think they would have to compromise something, so it would be a question of what.

JS: Would you like to make another movie?

KS: Yeah, I’d love to make a movie.

JS: How do you get the best results in working for the movies?

KS: I think you’d have to decide what compromises you’re going to make and decide that you weren’t going to care about anything else. Because of how much you can do in a movie that you can’t do on the page, you have to try to see in that way and hear in that way and let go of the things that make something work on the page, and be alert to how things could work. For me, avoiding things that are super trite would be tough if I were making a movie.

JS: Would you comment on that legendary Hollywood experience you were involved in?

KS: I refuse to answer on the grounds that it might incriminate me.

JS: What technique do you use to arrive at your standard?

KS: I can answer that in two ways. I can talk about how I create my standard, which is partly by trying to be very scrupulous, very alert: to create something that reflects scrupulousness and alertness. That’s my standard: I want to be scrupulous; I want to be alert; I want to be generous. And I want to be genuine, which I know is kind of a weird and somewhat fraught word in talking about writing. How do I do that? I try to listen to all the things the words I’m using are actually saying.

JS: Does that mean an artist can use Christianity simply as just another tool, as a carpenter would borrow a hammer?

KS: I think a writer can use anything like that that she wants, but in order to do that you’re necessarily choosing its ground and it has its own things going on. If you enter that framework it seems you are stuck with some of the things that are built into it, which some writers might like.

JS: How much of your writing is based on personal experience?

KS: One third.

JS: Some people say they can’t understand your writing even after they read it two or three times. What do you suggest to them?

KS: Do some other things and then come back to it.

JS: Would you include inspiration in a list of things that are important for a writer?

KS: I never know how to answer this question and it’s one that as a teacher I get asked a lot. If by inspiration you mean something that makes you want to write, then I think that’s great. You should seek out the things that make you want to write. You should identify them, notice what they are when they happen, and then go try to get more of them.

JS: As a writer, you are said to be obsessed with violence.

KS: I am obsessed with violence because I don’t understand it. I understand anger really well because I feel it a lot. But I don’t understand violence well at all so a lot of the writing that I do is interested in how people come to that place of perpetrating or causing violence.

JS: Can you say how you started as a writer?

KS: I started writing stories and telling stories to myself when I was pretty little. I got a lot of praise for writing in elementary school, grown-up praise, and I loved that so I wanted more of that. I started working on my writing when I was around fourteen. I was at an arts summer camp and I had a couple of counselors who said, “No no, it’s not enough just to do it. You have to do things to and about it. You can change it and make it better; you don’t have to have it be the thing that you wrote and it’s done.” That’s when I started working on writing, and a lot of the things I do now that make me feel good about my own work come from that time.

JS: Do you read your contemporaries?

KS: Yes.

JS: And Freud?

KS: I don’t have an awful lot of dealings with Freud. I read parts of The Interpretation of Dreams and there were some great lines that I used as poem titles. People use the word ‘Freudian’ really loosely, but I don’t actually have a sense of what comes from him versus what gets attributed to him.

JS: Would you comment on the future of the novel?

KS: I hope that the future of the novel is not boring. I hope that –hold on, my office thinks I’m dead. . .It just creeps me out because the lights go out when I haven’t moved for a little while.

JS: Could you explain more what you mean by “motion in relation to the artist”? 

KS: Again, I can think about that in two ways. There is the artist and there is everything else, and everything else is swirling around the perceptions of the artist—what she notices and what she’s thinking about, how she is moved by the things, the motion in which she exists or is caught up or how she resists that. Maybe that’s only one thing. The motion that the artist can be moved by / caught in and goes with / resists / recognizes / doesn’t recognize, or looks back on and says, “Whoa, I have been carried along.”

KL: Would you say a little bit about your newest book? 

KS: How We Saved the City is mostly about Providence, which is where I’ve lived for the past eight years. More particularly, it’s about overlapping Providences: the overlapping paths and cities of which Providence is made, which don’t always connect or come to pass each other. Occasionally, there’s a rupture and you’ll have to deal with someone from one of the other Providences because they’re all inhabiting the same ground. The ways the different Providences operate on each other and which ones have more or less gravity to affect the others and what kinds of gravity. There’s a lot about places changing. The “we” in the title is a different “we” at different times, in different situations. 

KL: Can you talk about what you’re working on right now?

KS: I’m working on a few things, including an essay about waiting that has to do with The Trojan Women by Euripides. I have a very methodical project that’s in columns that is about inheritance: inheriting ways of seeing the world, where we get those ways. It’s also about global warming and deciding whether or not to have a kid. Another piece I’m working on that may or may not be part of the same thing is something I just call THE WAD. I don’t know what THE WAD will be yet. It also has something to do with seeing and vision, and also one’s obligations as a person. But I don’t quite know yet. And I also just wrote a series of poems about fungus.

KL: That’s a lot of things. That sounds amazing. 

KS: Don’t be too impressed yet because only a few of them actually exist. There are words, it’s not just in my head, but some of them are pretty modular words.