A Conversation with Molly Gaudry
Muriel Leung

Molly Gaudry’s work is notoriously difficult to categorize. As a reviewer for The Broad Set Writing Collective put it in 2009: “If you consider her novella poetry, then it borrows much from prose. And if you see it as prose, it allows for a poetic flavor. Gaudry walks this line with great poise and in that poise we find her greatest strength as a writer.”

In 2011, Molly Gaudry was shortlisted for the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry, and her verse novel, We Take Me Apart, was named 2nd finalist for the Asian American Literary Award for Poetry. In 2012, YesYes Books released the 3-author volume Frequencies, which includes her short fiction collection “Lost July.” In 2014, The Cupboard released “Wild Thing,” a collection of essays and poems about recovery after brain injury, and Ampersand Books reprinted We Take Me Apart in anticipation of the release of its sequel Desire: A Haunting and its prequel Remember Us. Molly is a core faculty member of the Yale Writers’ Conference and is the Creative Director at The Lit Pub.

Here, Gaudry talks with NDR’s Assistant Editor Muriel Leung about process, identity, and the “New Adults:”

Your recent books have been described as both “novel” and “verse” and explore hybridity in forms – how do you characterize your writing and do you identify your writing with a slipperiness between genres?

This is a really interesting question, Muriel — more interesting, in fact, than I even knew it could be. The simple answer is: Yes, my work definitely shifts and slides between the various genres. The more complicated answer is: I’m not so sure where I position my work. Is it invested in the politics of non-genre? Is it multi-genre or mixed genre? What or where are the generic boundaries, anyway? Do such boundaries even exist? If so, then do I cross them? And why? Or do I, instead, blur them? At the moment, I can’t claim to have any definitive answers. All I can offer is that I am invested in my ongoing investigation of these ideas.

As an Asian American woman writer, how often do you think about your identity in your writing and publication life? Does it shape the way you write and where you send your work off for publication? Do you think there are some things other Asian American women writers should consider in terms of how they position themselves in their works and publication decisions?

This is a difficult question for me because I was adopted from Korea and raised by white parents. Identity is slippery for me. I’m in between. I feel white but look Korean. I don’t know the first thing about being Korean, and so I don’t write about it. It does not enter my work in the way we might think race ought to enter a marginalized, minority writer’s work. On the contrary, my characters are faceless, raceless, and quite solitary. But they are always in-between something. Just as I am and will always be in-between. And just as I am in-between genres. I think this is all very much related. Because it’s part of my identity, and that manifests and spills out in many ways I’m hardly even aware of myself.

I do want to add that I think we need more books by more women, by more minorities, by more LGBTQ writers, etc., because we become better human beings when we read. We empathize. We feel what the characters feel. And so it would be useful for readers everywhere to experience as many subject-positions as possible. For example, Matthew Salesses has an ebook called Different Racisms, and it is wonderful. It taught me about another writer’s experience as a Korean adoptee (very different from my own), and it taught me about how race does enter into his work, and why it’s so important that it does.

What is your perspective on publishing for writers who operate in hybrid genres? What is the larger literary market’s receptiveness to hybrid forms? Have you had any difficulties finding spaces that are receptive to hybrid works or have you experienced the contrary—a welcoming of hybrid forms?

Thankfully, my verse novels have been well received by academic institutions and other niche literary circles. That said, agents have been far less receptive. And it matters, actually, because I really think it’s only through one of the big five publishers that I might reach the large-scale audience that I want to reach. I think of Anne Carson’s verse novel Autobiography of Red, which seems to be well regarded in many circles, not just academic. And Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s novel-in-prose poems Madeleine is Sleeping, which also seems to have gotten around (among several other kinds of like examples). Still, I’m fairly certain that neither of these women has come close to reaching the sales numbers of New York Times bestseller Ellen Hopkins, who writes young adult verse novels. I’ve been secretly hoping that there really is such a thing as New Adult literature, which (I think?) caters to 19-26 year old readers. I heard somewhere that the massive successes of Harry Potter and Twilight created a huge demographic of young readers who are now New Adults, still hungry for good books but confused about where to find them. So, I suppose I’ve been secretly hoping that New Adult literature really is a thing, because maybe my verse novels could be a world that Ellen Hopkins’ readers might wish, in the future, to explore. Or maybe that is a delusional fantasy on my part. In which case, I’m grateful that the academics are as receptive as they are. And I’m grateful that the small presses are as passionate as they are about experiment and play in work that breaks down generic and other kinds of readerly expectations. (Perhaps related, and perhaps inspiring: there seem to be a lot of colleges and universities right now actively seeking job candidates with experience working in multiple genres.)

When it comes to writing “the book,” how do you approach projects? Do you begin with a kernel of an idea that you work on over an extended period of time? Do you churn things out fairly quickly and spend the majority of time on revisions? Are you a meticulous planner with story arcs, charts, and index cards?

Oh, this is a fun question to answer. I love talking about process. And mine is pretty simple. I do not write every day. I think that’s a great approach for some writers, but it doesn’t work for me. What I do is wait. I wait. And wait. And wait some more. Marguerite Duras says, “Writing comes like the wind,” and I subscribe fully to this belief. And if I am lucky enough to catch a slight breeze, I attend. I journal madly. I journal about what I’m thinking, what it might signify, how it relates to my daily, personal life. I journal about random memories that come up for me. I journal about my deepest desires. I journal about books I’m reading and how they might be useful to my own work. And then I begin to write. I write as long as I can, whenever I can. Maybe I get up a few hours earlier than usual. Maybe I go to bed a few hours later. Maybe I jot down lines at red lights or in line at the grocery store, or on cocktail napkins in a restaurant or bar. And when I’ve reached a stopping point for the day, I return to the journal before bed. I journal about the day’s writing. Did it go well? Why or why not? What’s working, what isn’t? What might the new writing be trying to say, deep down at its core? Why would such a message matter to me? Who is the message for? How would I want that message to be conveyed to me, if I were that person, or in that group of people? Is it an important message? Why does the writing matter? What do I hope to accomplish tomorrow? How do I intend to accomplish it? What should I definitely not do? How will I make the best use of my time? And in the morning, I return to the journal. I either elaborate on what I’ve already written about my intentions for the day, or I revise the plan. And then I write.

Once a manuscript is completely drafted (I always hope this will take less than the length of a season), I put it away and let it marinate. I send it to a few trusted first readers, and while they have it I re-enter my daily life, which feels like waking up, like coming up for air. And I go back to that long period of waiting. Eventually the responses start coming in, and I journal about the suggestions and whether I should take them or not and why. Then I begin to revise. I repeat this many times with each new draft.

I have to add here that my publisher, Jason Cook, at Ampersand Books, is my editor more than anything. I call him with my problem scenes, and he helps me figure them out. I call him with a possible idea, and we decide whether or not it is necessary and why. I email him new pages frequently. Ours is a wonderful relationship, and I am lucky to be working on my books with him. He is a huge part of my process, and I am grateful.

Who do you read (or what are you excited to read!)? Where do you get your inspiration from?

I love reading women. I love reading essays, and fragmented essays. I really love Jenny Boully’s [one love affair] because it is about love affairs and Marguerite Duras, whose “autobiographical” books (her later work) are among my favorite books of all time. I just finished Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. And Amina Cain’s Creature. Both are wonderful. Right now I’m reading Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby, and I find myself nearly moved to tears by certain passages. I am working my way through Lydia Davis’s novel, The End of the Story. And I fancy myself a collector of Margery Sharp’s novels, because I just love Cluny Brown, and The Flowering Thorn, Brittania Mews, The Stone of Chastity. The list goes on. She’s unlike these other women I’ve mentioned because her work was quite popular, and the plots are easy, and the sentences are clear and simple. Light reading, perhaps. Vacation reading. Nonetheless, she tells a good story, and she always writes women, and I like good stories about women. I have quite a few other books on my to-read list, including: Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Muriel Sparks’s The Informed Air, Martine Bellen’s 2X2, Evelyn Hampton’s Discomfort, Sara Veglahn’s The Mayflies, Jac Jemc’s A Different Bed Every Time, Violette Leduc’s The Woman with the Little Fox. . . .