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JOANNA NOVAK
in conversation with BENNINGTON REVIEW

 

EMMA RICHARDSON

Your novel I Must Have You deals largely with eating disorders and fixations on food. The way you write about food in your story “Kill Wynn” feels much different but still very intentional in the detailed descriptions of food. Can you talk about the overarching significance of food in this story and in your other writing?

JOANNA NOVAK

Food satisfies a need with pleasure. Or, it can. I see that potential in food, always--a meal could change your life--and in my writing I often zoom in on the way that the eating experience falls short of transcendent. In "Kill Wynn," the character has dietary preferences and rituals that reveal his attempts to nudge something more into life--order, health, and, sure, maybe pleasure.

EMMA RICHARDSON

“Kill Wynn” is very driven by language in its lyrical prose. Can you talk a bit about how you approach sentence-making?

JOANNA NOVAK

In the case of "Kill Wynn," I wrote the story and then pared back the language, again and again. Sometimes that paring means I'm trying to highlight thing (maybe an image? or a word?); other times, I'm trying to isolate an emotion or an utterance. Maybe a good culinary comparison is making a reduction, where you take ingredients--even just sugar and black pepper and shallots and balsamic vinegar--and slowly simmer it down to syrup.

EMMA RICHARDSON

Were there any writers who had a direct influence on “Kill Wynn”?  Any individual books?

JOANNA NOVAK

There's not enough I can say about the writing of Gary Lutz. His prose gives my brain shivers.

EMMA RICHARDSON

Your essay “Frosting” is being published in the next issue of Bennington Review. In what ways does your approach to writing nonfiction differ from your approach to writing fiction and poetry?

JOANNA NOVAK

Curiosity and investigation plays a bigger role in my nonfiction writing. Writing an essay, I'm trying to explore--usually an experience or a situation. In fiction or poetry, I'm curious, sure, but that's not necessarily what leads me into the writing. Almost always, my fiction and poetry begins with rapture, crushing on an image, the sound of a word, even an emotion.

EMMA RICHARDSON

In 2009, along with Thomas Cook and Tyler Flynn Dorholt, you founded Tammy, a journal and chapbook publisher. What inspired you to start this project, and 9 years later, how has your role as an editor and publisher influenced you as a writer and your perspective of the literary world?

JOANNA NOVAK

Like lots of young editors, Thomas and Tyler and I were inspired by what we weren't seeing--which, in 2009, were new print journals. We wanted to bring objects into the world: we talked about that, specifically.

Being an editor has given me humility as a writer. I understand a little better how many of me there are out there! In other words, when I send work out, I don't expect it to be the best work in the pile an editor is going through--or, I guess, I hold open the possibility that it could be the best, with the knowledge that there's an awful lot of good work. And, too, that awful lot of good work doesn't always suit a particular aesthetic or vision.

On a very micro-level, I care extra about the polish of my writing because I'm an editor. I'm perhaps inordinately proud of the cleanness of my drafts.

 


JOANNA NOVAK is the author of I Must Have You, a novel, and Noirmania, a forthcoming booklength poem. Her writing has appeared widely in such publications as Catapult, Guernica, LitHub, The New York Times, The Rumpus, and Salon. She is a founding editor of Tammy, an independent chapbook press and literary journal. 


EMMA RICHARDSON is an editorial assistant at Bennington Review.



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