The Kate Braverman Interview

Today is the day to hit the streets.

I don't think I can do today's interviewee justice by paraphrasing her bios, so I'm going to just directly quote from Bookslut's February 2006 interview with her: "Thirty years after her first book publication, Kate Braverman is in the middle of a retrospective renaissance. Perhaps best known for her groundbreaking novel Lithium For Medea, her latest book, Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles: An Accidental Memoir, won the 2006 Graywolf Prize. In addition to her newly published memoir, Braverman has published four novels, two short story anthologies, and five books of poetry. Somewhat of a literary outlaw, Kate has written poetically about some of the most taboo topics and extreme women protagonists, while still garnering multiple literary awards, gaining canonical status in literature curricula, and having her works translated into Turkish, French, Italian, and Spanish. Like Kathy Acker, Rikki Ducornet, Lynne Tillman, and Jeanette Winterson, Braverman has stunningly managed to beat the odds -- odds that many female literary daredevils fail to finagle, no matter how talented and deserving....Even when Kate is told to follow, be still, quiet her mind, move in turn, she never blinks. Braverman just keeps forging ahead. She has big plans for 2006: a Frantic Transmissions book launch at the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC; an international book tour; a celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Lithium For Medea, with book releases and parties in Los Angeles, San Francisco, NYC, Paris and Istanbul. Kate Braverman is tireless. While most people burn and fade, Kate incants the urgency of a teenager, and she has only really just begun."

The Kate Braverman Interview: Just Under Twenty Questions

You're described as a 'literary outlaw' in an interview with Bookslut. Is that an apt description? What literary laws are you breaking?
A member of The Corporation made contact with me and told me I had a "bad reputation." The translation of that is that I do high art and when you write with revolutionary intent and audacity, and don't make money for The Corporation, their solution is to delete you from their collective consciousness. That's what they mean by "bad." Their complete dismissal is supposed to make you shrivel and die. It usually works, after enough decades. Talking about my "bad reputation" is a way of removing me from real examination and used to be called the critical apparatus. Ben Marcus just told me there is no critical apparatus. Call it what you will. I have a critical apparatus and use it every time I read, review or critique. Now, it's short hand for failing The Corporation. If I was exactly the same in every respect but made money for The Corporation (which is all American literature is now) they would call me Didion, the next generation. Or the Jewish Didion. Or the female Mailer or Hunter Thompson. It's about the laziness and selfishness of the people in The Corporation. They are barely literate business people. They won't do the reading themselves, it's so much more convenient to just dismiss it as work by a woman with a "bad reputation." You don't have to read the old works or the new. But we all know they'd publish JT Leroy's trick book if they thought they'd make money, and call themselves defenders of the exploited sex workers, real and metaphorical. They like to pat themselves on the back while making money.

Which of the literary awards that you've won have been the sweetest to receive?
The Economist Prize essay is a wonderful story. My husband and I saw it advertised in a magazine on an airplane and decided to both enter and we wrote competitive essays. The questions were very science specific, except for one, which I thought I could disguise and subvert. Dr. G wrote about
nanotechnology. I wrote a word by word prose poem and called it Growing up in Los Angeles: The Fusion of the Natural and Artificial. That fit the topic or finessed it, actually. Anyway, we knew they were going to announce the prize soon and Dr. G says, you're a great writer, my darling, but you can't win because I'm going to win and it's a science competition. I said I was going to win. We'd spent 3 weeks writing in a competitive fever. The house, there was so much intense brain activity in each of our studies, that I could smell smoke, I was afraid to touch the hallway walls, they were like charged, blazing hot. Dr. G picks up his email and says he's got the Bronze award. I say, actually I'm screaming and pulling out my hair----that's another example of the corruption of publishing. Then it came to me. I must have won. So I called him back and asked him to pick up my email. He called and said, bad news dear, you didn't win. We tied for Bronze. I didn't believe it. He was in the press room and had to put a stranger on the phone to confirm. Like, hi this is Joe from USA Today and I'm looking at your email and you did tie for Bronze. It's a gem of a tale about our marriage and that essay became chapter 1 of Frantic Transmissions.

Your work has been translated into many languages. Which do you think works best for your work (other than English?)
Being translated into French this past month has been amazing. What an honor, to be in a language where books are still literature. And in France, one is still treated as a literary citizen, unlike America, where if you are on The Corporation's black list, stories that should be in major magazines never get there and The Corporation makes you into a non-person. So, for a brief moment, I was a fully enabled literary citizen. It makes returning to The Corporate vision impossible. Still, the major influence on my work has been the Spanish and I include the Spanish pulse in all my work. The idea that Palm Latitudes, a novel I wrote when I was almost fluent in Spanish and lived in the barrio and went native, that was in Los Angeles, where anyone who isn't a moron can see that it's not an American city, it's a border town, the last great city of Mexico, it's northern capital. I used to write poetry in Spanish and Spanish would be a language I should be translated into. I also wonder how my work would play in Israel. They don't know me there at all and I think my work would be of great interest in both Israel and Mexico.

What have you been reading lately?
I read very little. The writing takes so much out of me. I'm reading the end of Ulysses because I'm going to do part of Penelope at the annual Bloom's Day celebration. I love to do my reading out loud, the same way I write, every word out loud. I write for sound, it opens an entire other strata of options, it expands your possibilities when you open yourself to sound and cadence. I'm going backwards with Cormac McCarthy, since Blood Meridian it's been so bad, so I'm now reading his first novel and it's brilliant. I've done a complete examination of William T. Vollmann and love Europe Central. The review is posted on my web. I've been revisiting the writing of the 70's, which The Corporation is removing from view. They always thought the 60's were sordid and no art came out of it, but the 70's was a decade of pure unmitigated insurrection. I was a child of the 60's, but I was in junior high when Didion and Hunter Thompson were doing their monumental work, so I really came of age in the 70's. I like my husband to read to me at night. He's read me the Le Carre trilogy, "Tinker Tailer" through "Smiley's People" dozens of times. I prefer Le Carre to Graham Green. I read a bit of Roth's "Everyman" and didn't continue. Reading is frightening to me, like being in a desert monsoon, spasms of lightning littering the sky like calligraphy or a text. I've ordered D'Ambosia's book of short stories.

When you describe Palm Latitudes as being "so literal," what exactly do you mean?
I don't know when or why I said that. I think historically that I published Lithium For Medea in l979 and finished Palm Latitudes in l984 is a remarkable journey from a first novel to a second, one of the more difficult bars in the trade. Of course, it took 4 years to get it published. I was so naive. I was certain I would win the National Book Award or at least be nominated. I didn't have any idea of the internal intrigues of The Corporation. For 4 years, I got rejections from Everybody. This may be a literary tour de force, but who wants to read about Mexicans? Who would believe uneducated Mexicanas could think like this? Then the spectacular reviews. Then The Corporation felt the book was "too literary" and après moi, le deluge. It was suddenly publish women with Spanish last names year and I got cut out, on the basis of name, from gender studies and Chicano studies. Palm Latitudes is unknown in Chicano studies and Women's studies because The Corporation only sponsors the obvious and easy to read and sell. Also, academics are as lazy about their reading as The Corporation. Academia increasingly follows a corporate model in all things.

Is there a fine line for a woman writer between writing about controversial issues and relying on shock factor?
Women are not allowed, by The Corporation, to inhabit the page as they truly are. They must think and act as conventional women. They can be professors or the wives of professionals, but they must engage in traditional female roles. If you can appeal to a special interest group, lesbian or of denoted race of ethnic status, you are permitted some slack. But actually white women are quite inhibited on the page, restricted. That's why I'm teaching "Experimental Fiction: Improvisation and Related Criminal Activities." Women simply don't have the attitude of ruthlessness required, the stamina, arsenal of weapons. For women, writing is supposed to be a refined activity, like something done at a desk with a lavendar pen, a love letter, perhaps. I refuse. I cut my teeth on Bellow, Roth and Mailer. I have made women intellectuals inhabit the page. I have created hybrid forms that are poems with dialogue. This is too complicated for the disintegrating Corporation. Women are constricted in their subject matter and stylistic approaches. What we lionize men for, we forbid women to enter. Where are our female Mailers, Lenny Bruces, Burroughs, Robert Stones? They are sitting at home with stacks of unpublished work. Yes, The Corporation craves "the new" and they know "shock" sells. I've never cared about what sells, obviously. I only care about making art, inventing forms, transcending all genres, experimenting, discovery and revelation

I may take on teaching creative writing in the future, but my experience is quite limited. Based on your experience as a writer and as a teacher, what makes for a good writing teacher?
Most people in MFA programs are not getting what they need. The better the prof, the more she will crit. The worse the prof, the more they let the group come to a consensus. I'm a fabulous writing teacher because I know all the tricks. I didn't study writing, but I studied how I learned and recognize each new trick I pick up and can articulate it. And the tricks I've learned from others. Some books, books I love, are like the literary schematics for weapons of mass literary destruction. I study such books, like theoretical physics. You need a massive frame of reference and a stable internal critical apparatus to teach. You must have an ear for it, like a gift in music. I can't tell you anything about a piece of music. But I can hear a paragraph and know if it is art or not and why. It's like having perfect pitch. I can cold crit, the first time I hear something, and know exactly what is right or wrong with it and what should be expanded or eliminated. I'm doing a book on how I write which will explain this. Instead of teaching writing, they ought to have a program for teaching reading. Like a 3 year MFA, where one year is spent just reading and reviewing. I began reviewing immediately after Berkeley, when I was a founding member of the Venice Poetry Workshop, and having to develop a critical apparatus as I reviewed, a task I took very seriously, was immeasurably helpful. I've found that all the aspects of being a writer, the writing, the reviewing, the readings, the contests I judge, all this makes me a better writer.

Outside of California, what are your favorite geographical locales as settings for literature?
I'm finished with Los Angeles and that old whore is finished with me. I wrote 7 years of stories in the Alleghany Mountains of rural PA where we lived. They are filled with pieces of the travels we've taken. Africa. China. Asia. India. Nepal. I will probably be setting my work in San Francisco now. I love the AZ deserts, Tucson area and have written about this region. I will continue with that landscape, too. I also wrote quite a bit about Maui where I lived for 2 years. I have the tropics in my blood, when it starts steaming, I wake up. I like HI off-season, when normal people can't take the heat. I love sun. It makes me smarter. But the truth is, I never met a landscape I didn't love. I have a craving for landscape, they open for me, we embrace. The tropics, the desert, Europe, jungles, stone, mud, rice terraces, huts, villas, plazas. Varanessi at dawn. Tanzania at dawn. Rigtht now, the sun setting over a ridge of the Columbia River.

Are there any questions you hate answering?
I don't want to answer questions that I've already answered or seem purely Corporate in their trajectory.

Do you read your press? Are you thick-skinned?
I don't read the press in general. We don't have journalism
anymore, I've found by doing recent interviews. Reporters just collage pieces from my web. I've found that getting ravishing reviews doesn't mean you sell books or get to keep publishing them. I am so thin-skinned and vulnerable, this is the wrong arena for me. I don't even have skin. I am naked, on a molecular level, with the word. I take it all personally and my entire personality is endangered every time I publish.

"Utterly dismayed are some strong words to use in critiquing someone's work. Did the folks at Graywolf Press expand on what exactly bothered them about your ending to Frantic Transmissions?
GW pretends to be an independent or alternative press, but their goals are to sell books, they dream of being a real Corporation. They didn't want the ending because they are not literary people, virtually no one in publishing is anymore, they didn't want any risk. They had me conventionalized and sanitized and that served their interests.

Based on your experience with Graywolf, what advice do you have for writers who feel let down by their publishers-how can they assert themselves without burning bridges, or is it impossible to do one or the other?
I'm disappointed by my 10 years of alternative small press
publishing and think the small press awards are meaningless.
I will probably stop publishing in America completely.

What kinds of people thrive in Los Angeles?
Los Angeles, in terms of white people, selects for mediocrity and pseudo intellectuals. It's a company town, the way NY is. The company there is the Media Corporation, publishing division. In L.A., it's the Movie Corporation division. But they are company towns, period. That's the morality and aesthetic. I've heard it said that NY is just Hollywood without the implants. In either event, NY is only talking about NY and the chance of the geography doesn't mean those writers deserve the attention they get. Doesn't publishing based on geographical convenience seem a bit obsolete in the millennium?

Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Answer. I have a great many pleasures and I have no guilt about them. I love exotic travel, the ocean, sailing, snorkeling, fishing, exploring. I do some visual art. I used to live in an extremely self-destructive manner, particularly during the 20 years I was a cocaine junky. That was wonderful for my art, but not good on the networking aspect. I always thought that being a great writer absolved one from having to take lunches with repulsive, transparent corporate monsters and their legion of squalid puppets.

What does it mean to be "too Jewish" when you're called that by Charles Bukowski?
. I just read that for the first time. I'm never noted for being
Jewish, though the idea that somebody in The Corporation couldn't think of calling me the Jewish Didion or the Jewish anything blows my mind. So, Bukowski recognized what NY couldn't, that I was a Jewish intellectual. I didn't think he had the perception to recognize anything, his poetry is truly squalid, he has no ear whatsoever, he's like tone deaf. Still this overt anti-Semitism may explain his long success in Germany. But that perception of being too intellectual was held by the people in Los Angeles. My work is so Jewish that I always wonder why it isn't commented on. At least Bukowski recognized that. But my work is too revolutionary in style and content to just be thrown out there. It needed to be framed and nobody was going to write the review or essay to explain how I should be read, as they do for writers they respect. I've never been respected. But I can't stand Bukowski. He's right. I wouldn't want to know him or he me.

Who are some of your female idols (not limited to living, real or in the realm of literature?)
An idol is such a strange word. Women that have influenced me? In the beginning, middle and end, Sylvia Plath. Didion twenty five years ago. I read the gossip sheets about Princess Diana and Courtney Love, both of whom I found rather interesting. Patti Smith The only compelling females in American literature are Tennessee Williams'. Molly Bloom. I wouldn't mind being Catherine Zeta-Jones or Angelina Jolie, but I refuse to adopt any children.

Should writers be modest?
Writers must be everything and modest doesn't even make my long list. Fearless. Ruthless. Willing to die for it. Write like a criminal. Embrace your female criminality to have the same repertoire of writing options that men do. Writers engage in acts of crime. Break and enter. Trespass. Confession. Exhuming the dead. Stealing. Identity theft. Assumed names, aliases. Lies. A real woman writer doesn't write or live like an ordinary woman. How could she?

Looking back at some of the things you say about your mother in interviews, in the future, what do you hope your daughter goes on the record with when she talks about you?
I will telephone her and ask her. She's not answering. I hope, when she comes to the fullness of her womanhood, that she will see I lived my feminism and art without compromise and also had the capacity to love, on a human level. That is almost impossible. As Tennessee Williams said, the most intimate moments of his life occurred between him and the page. That is the fact of art. To also love a human, an infant female, and be her mother in all our incarnations, has been a roller coaster. The new generation strives for being "normal" and " appropriate". I just did a seminar on Art and Madness, and her age group told me they found the notion obsolete. I think Gabrielle will say I taught her how to be a full adult who is also a female. She will say I was a mad poet, a genius, a mentally fragile and consuming being that she both hated and loved. As she matures, she will love me more. She will bring me fresh basil from her garden, orchids,a string of pearls, just because. She will bring me her daughter for sensibility training, to be put to sleep with TS Eliot, as she was. She will bring me inexplicable bundles of cash. She'll bake sugar cookies and put hundred dollar bills beneath them, the silver lining. She will kneel in gratitude and we will embrace on a subatomic level. The earth's heart beats as it has always, will always, repeating the only word it knows, daughter, daughter, daughter.

How does it feel to be the 148th person interviewed for
I love Q & A. It is an honor to be asked to contribute the
examinations of my passion in all and any forum. Thank you for the opportunity.

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