The Cupboard Interview with Alexandra Kleeman

Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine (Harper, 2015) and Intimations Harper, 2016), will serve as the judge of Cupboard Pamphlet’s Sixth-Ever Contest. She has some secret joys to tell you about. She has some advice for you. What are the joys? What is the advice? Is there more to know? Is there more to discover? Here’s what she told us:

Speak to us of your smallest but sunniest joys. What are they? How many of them do you have? Why are they the best?

 

One of my problems I think is that I like too many things, including things that are bad.  I like the rainbowy swirl on top of a gasoline-tinged puddle.  I like the sameness of 500 identical marigolds in a grocery store parking lot.  I admire the shouting man shouting freely on a crowded public bus.  It looks like it feels good to shout like that!  To exercise one’s vocal cords to the max!  I think a better gauge of what I truly like is on rarer days when I feel alienated in the world and only like about 20% of it.

 

You write prose! What excites you about prose forms?

 

A big thing I love about prose is how it sheathes itself in mundanity, and then uses that mundanity as a way to slip past your defenses into the place where you are intimate and casual and complacent and then detonate there.  You could say that poetry announces itself immediately as “special” language: from the moment you see the shortened lines trailing down the page you’re on high alert, asking yourself “what is this piece of language going to do to me?”  But prose, in its guise as the mode in which we make small talk, tell our moms about our day over the phone, try to return an appliance that sucks, etc, invites you to approach it off-guard.  You’re often deep in the strangeness before you realize what type of payload is being delivered.

 

Tell us of your literary favorites: what did they do within their writings to earn your love?

 

I love work that makes me feel as though I’ve been allowed to see into a dark and obscure crevice in the world.  Sometimes this is work that makes the world around us seem to vibrate with a forgotten foreignness, like Yoko Tawada’s stories about visitors, immigrants, and trespassers who find themselves within a new and foreign order, or the surreal realities of Mary Caponegro and Robert Coover, whose dreamlike worlds show us what reality secretly wishes it could be.  I love characters who surprise me in the way that people do whenever you get too close to them–Joy Williams and Kazuo Ishiguro make people like that, full of very real obscurities.

 

What advice do you offer those who enter the Cupboard Pamphlet’s Sixth Ever Contest?

 

I’d rather see your most hopeful monster than your best-groomed show pony.

 

What does it mean that we now really want to eat a Kandy Kake? Are we going to be okay?

 

I’d suggest gnawing on a washcloth or rag for a couple days.  With luck, you will reemerge fresh and new, desires refocused upon something attainable!

 

Alexandra Kleeman lives on Staten Island, and is the 2016 winner of the Bard Fiction Prize. Her fiction has been published in The Paris Review, Zoetrope: All-Story, Conjunctions, Guernica, and Gulf Coast, among others. Nonfiction essays and reportage have appeared in Harper’s, Tin House, n+1, and The Guardian. She is the author of the debut novel You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine (Harper, 2015) and Intimations (Harper, 2016), a short story collection.