The Cupboard Interview with Kim Chinquee
And a bio: Kim Chinquee is the author of the collections OH BABY, VEER, PRETTY, PISTOL, SHOT GIRLS and WETSUIT. She's the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, Chief Editor of ELJ (Elm Leaves Journal), and Senior Editor of New World Writing. She co-directs the writing major at SUNY-Buffalo State, and serves as a Board Member for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs as Northeast Regional Chair.
You write prose! What excites you about prose forms?
Just about everything! Mostly the craft, I suppose, and how all elements of craft work together to form a single work of literary art. I love how sometimes a piece of writing can surprise me, or bring me in a moment where I might experience something in ways I might not have experienced before! Like using language to look at a rainbow from a different perspective, or a snowstorm, or an achy toe.
Who are your literary favorites? How did their writings earn your love?
Lydia Davis, Amy Hempel, Mary Gaitskill, Diane Williams. Lyn Hejinian—just for starters. I ate up as much of Lydia Davis’s work as I could as soon as I discovered her. Carried around with me for months and carried it around with me wherever I went. I love that she has her own way of taking command of her fictions, how she breaks a lot of the conventional rules. And just her insight, the philosophy behind her characters and the ways they see the world. Same with Amy Hempel. As an undergrad (I went back to college after being a med tech in the Air Force), my creative writing professor, Tom Williams, recommended I read her. So I found and I loved what’s being said by what’s not being said. And the power and importance of each line. Mary Gaitskill: because reading gave me the courage to write about a lot of issues I’d stuffed under the rug. Same with Diane Williams—the brevity in her work, and the ways in which she moves words around to make them pop off the page. I read everything she writes, and she’s also the best editor I know. Lyn Hejinian’s is one of my favorite books, ever. I love how the language speaks to itself, love the repetition and the circling around of the prose. It just reminds me so much of life.
The flash pieces in Wetsuit (Ravenna Press, 2019) and Shot Girls (Ravenna Press, 2018) explore variations of repeating motifs—twins, bartenders, bikinis, and secretive, dangerous men populate these stories. What draws you to rendering these motifs from different perspectives, different directions? What revealed intensities do you revel in?
In a lot of instances, I take stuff from real life and spin it around in fictional ways. I’m not a twin, for instance, but my sister and I are very close in age. And I’ve always been fascinated with twins. I worked as a cocktail waitress for a period of time to make some extra money. Bikinis? Oh, I suppose there are a lot of bikinis in these books—shot girls and wetsuits are akin to them, I suppose. Dangerous men? I’ll leave that one alone. I think it’s useful to look at situations from various angles and points-of-view and perspectives, to make our characters more round and complicit with one another. It not only deepens the work, imo, it deepens the writer.
Your own writing often focuses on (non)emotional responses to trauma and the navigation of dangerous domestic spaces. Will you be reading for manuscripts that cover the same ground? Are there other issues that you would like to see addressed in contest submissions?
Not any particular issue. Rather any issue that draws upon the human condition. Writing with heart, using the gift of language, words and rearranging them on the page in ways that produce work that is affecting and surprising and also very real.
What advice do you offer those who enter The Cupboard 2020 Annual Contest?
Send in your best work, something you care deeply about, something that excites you. Thank you for the honor of judging—I look forward to reading the work!