Carmen Maria Machado’s debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press. She has been nominated for a Nebula Award and a Shirley Jackson Award, and her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, and lives in Philadelphia with her partner.
Managing Editor, Carissa Halston, interviewed Machado for Solstice about her forthcoming collection, writing as activism, and genre vs. style.
CH: First of all, congratulations on your forthcoming collection, Her Body and Other Parties! Will you talk a bit about the overall project and how the manuscript came to be?
CMM: Happily! This collection has been an ongoing project since graduate school. My thesis, a collection with the same title, only shares 3 of the same stories. The majority of Her Body and Other Parties was written post-school. I’ve actually written a ton of work since then—enough for several collections, probably—but Her Body and Other Parties has a specific set of themes and concerns: the oppressed body, gender, sex and sexuality, media, myths and legends and ghosts and the uncanny. Some of the stories have been published online already, but there are a few that were print-only or are otherwise hard to find. And there’s a brand-new short story and a brand-new novella that haven’t been published at all. Overall, it’s a tight, sleek collection. I’m really excited to be working with Ethan Nosowsky at Graywolf; he’s a brilliant editor and really understands this project.
CH: In Los Angeles Review of Books, Sofia Samatar wrote, “Sex, capable of infinite variation, holds a prominent place in Machado’s fiction.” Last year, you published “A Girl’s Guide to Sexual Purity” (also at LARB), an essay that delved into your experience growing up in a religious community and how it affected your sexuality. Do you find those experiences informing your fiction? And, as a queer writer, do you view writing fiction as a type of activism?
CMM: Certainly, my experiences with my body—as a queer woman, as a fat woman, as a woman of color, as a woman who either wanted to or has had sex, as a woman, period—have shaped my concerns as a writer. Religion was certainly part of it, of course—especially when it came to navigating sex and sexuality—but I think we’re all marinating in a toxic societal stew of some sort, even if you’re not particularly religious. Slut-shaming and homophobia and transphobia can exist outside of religious contexts, for example. Also, we’re obsessed with weight and food shaming. And people of color experience their bodies being routinely devalued, set upon, and destroyed on a regular basis. Our culture hates bodies. Its only interest is making us hate them, and punishing us if we don’t. I love my body. But sometimes the stress is too much, and I wish I could just be a brain in a jar. (But you can’t drink dirty martinis or eat soup dumplings if you’re a brain in a jar, so… it’s tricky.)
As for the question of “activism,” I think that if you’re a woman, a queer person, a person of color, a non-cisgender person, a non-able-bodied person, etc., writing is inherently a form of activism because you’re staking a claim in a world that is not meant for you. When you try and put your work into the world, you’re saying “I think that what I have to say, in the way I say it, is so important that I am willing to try and get it to other people, no matter what it takes.” And that requires ego, in the best way possible. It requires that you take yourself and your craft and your voice seriously. When you’re not white, not male, not cisgender or straight or able-bodied, that ego is a radical act. So yes, the fact that I take myself seriously as an artist and do what I can to put my work out into the world is a form of activism.