Pigeon Pages Interview with Annie DeWitt

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Do you have a bird story or favorite feathered friend?

My first interaction with birds was at the Worcester Science Museum. They had an eagle with a sign beside its cage showing how large the wingspan was.  You backed yourself up against the sign and spread out your arms to measure them against the eagle. This was my first understanding of what an endangered species was as a child and it was actually really profound. Now I see eagles quite frequently in the Catskills and I'm always cheering for them. I also love to fly. (I swear I once flew down the stairs as a child - but that's another story.) People have always told me I look bird-like, so I feel as though I should invent my own genus or something. I am particularly partial to owls and hawks and large birds of prey - they move so silently but are so fierce.  

What is your most memorable reading experience?

I was a bookseller at Harvard Bookstore before going back to MFA school. I lived down the street in Central Square and walked to work and wrote a lot and bought a lot of discount used books. Returning years later as a writer to read from my first novel White Nights was particularly meaningful as I really value that community. The people who work there are literally the best-read people I've ever encountered.

What makes you most excited about founding the Roxbury Writers Residency?

Two things: Providing writers at all stages of their careers with a supportive vibrant atmosphere within which to create, think and question. As well as to provide them with a glimpse into the creative life that is thriving here in the Catskills. There are so many artists of all stripes nestled in the hills here, it's inspiring. The second part that excites us is to provide rural Delaware County with an arm into New York City’s creative excellence by offering free programming such as our Editors’ Panel to all Delaware County residents. Delaware County is one of the most stunning landscapes I've encountered in anywhere I've traveled. I met a woman the other day at Russells General store in Bovina who called it the Kentucky of the North - which felt apt given its large swaths of farmland. However, we are also mountainous and boast one of America's most legendary trout rivers. The wildlife blows my mind daily. We see bear, foxes, porcupines, rabbits, coyotes, woodchucks on the regular and even the occasional coywolf!  It is also a county heavily beset by a very real, very trenchant, rural poverty which exists in tandem with the kind of wealth brought in by weekenders from the city. We're in a bit of a unique situation in that we straddle both worlds; we live here full-time but also have a vibrant work life based in the city and beyond. Life here is full of idiosyncrasies - such as no cell service! (It's coming soon, they just wired us! They also just paved the road.) We feel very lucky to live and create here. It feels great to give back.

To tweet or not to tweet?

I am SO bad at it. Can someone please explain how it works? I really like writing constraints - so the short form should work for me. But, I find I lack the vim and vinegar to be a true tweeter. There's so much hate in the twittersphere. I do get a lot of my news here though.

What books do you have in your bag right now?

SO many! Truthfully I've been going through a dry spell in terms of finding fiction that really excites me and have been reading a lot of nonfiction. But, it's great to have so many voices out this summer who I truly relate to. Right now on my bedside table: 

  • Christine Schutt's Pure Hollywood (Christine is a national treasure. I read her religiously.)
  • Brandon Hobson's Where The Dead Sit Talking (Love Brandon's work since we were first in NOON together. He takes such awesome risks and makes such gorgeous sentences.) 
  • Rachel Cusks's Kudos (SO good - I'm currently obsessed and reading slowly so as not to finish all in one sitting.)
  • If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim (Really excited about this debut and all the press it's getting! So deserved.)
  • Florida by Lauren Groff
  • Laura van den Berg's The Third Hotel 
  • My Dead Parents by Anya Yurchyshyn (If you haven't read this yet, you MUST! She's my nearest and dearest. I don't full-belly laugh easily in life and I literally fell asleep weeping laughing from her texts last night. This book is so honest and real and true and singular. I taught it last semester and my students were obsessed. Just waiting for when someone makes it a movie!)

And shout out to a forthcoming book, Survival Math, which I'm really excited for by dear friend and true literary hero, Mitchell Jackson. Mitch is the most stand up literary citizen I know. He does so much for promoting other writers' work - he really understands and enacts the idea of being an ally to women and underrepresented voices. He's also the only person who has ever invited me to an event so fancy the invite literally got flown in overnight express - I'll never forget it. All to help me when I was promoting White Nights. It was such a selfless act. I think he's a genius on the page. I know this book will do big things.

Can you tell us your favorite rejection story?

Longtime mentor Diane Williams once accepted a story of mine and then emailed a few weeks later to reject it saying, "I read it again and there was nothing there." I respect her honesty and editorial vision so much. My first novel is dedicated to her because she first published an excerpt of it and made me believe in it again.

What literary journals do you love?

I read Rebecca Solnit's column Easy Chair for Harpers. It's the best thing out there. Thank god for her voice. 

Epiphany, edited by dear friend and general rockstar Tracy O'Neil - Tracy is doing incredible things with this.

NOON by Diane Williams is literally flawless and uncompromising every time.

FENCE - love Rebecca Wolff's vision

A Public Space - Editor Sarah-Blakley Cartwright is tremendous. She also curates a great new reading series called Karma. I was honored to read at the launch. Check it out!

The Believer - I've written a non-fiction column about art and lot for them on and off called Various Paradigms and am so grateful for their continued support.

BOMB - editor Raluca Albu is the best of the best

Catapult - Yuka Igarashi is stellar

Guernica - Meakin Armstrong is a gem

UNSAID: The Journal of New and Lasting Writing

Also, clearly all my love forever goes to NYTyrant. Gian's vision is singular. Though they no longer have a print mag their online editor Jordan Castro is bringing in really exciting voices to the website.

I'm also very curious about the new vision editor Emily Nemens will bring to The Paris Review. I really liked the statement that was released about her 'meritocratic editorial agenda' and actively finding authors outside the established networks.

What shakes your tail feathers?

I fall asleep reading Equibase breeding reports about ex-racehorses.

What advice do you have for fledgling writers?

Write great sentences. Revise like hell. Be fearless. Don't let the industry tame you.

What other eggs do you have in your basket right now?

I'm headed to ESPN next week to work on a piece I'm really passionate about related to horses. More on that forthcoming! Book wise,

I have a story collection ready to go. Honored to say it's been shortlisted for the Mary McCarthy Award, all the stories published, several translated. I am currently furiously at work on a novel called Beneficio repped by my great agent Duvall Osteen at Aragi.

 
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Annie DeWitt it a novelist, short story writer and essayist. Her writing has appeared in GrantaTin House, The Paris Review Daily, The Believer, Guernica, Esquire, BOMB, Electric Literature, Bookforum, NOON, The LA Review of Books, The Iowa Review, The American Reader, art+culture, Poets and Writers, amongst others. DeWitt holds an MFA in Fiction from Columbia School of the Arts. She was a Co-Founding Editor of Gigantic, a literary journal of short prose and art carried throughout the U.S. and abroad. Her debut novel White Nights In Split Town City, out from Tyrant Books in Summer 2016, made The New York Times Book Review’s “Short List” and has received accolades from BookForum, Publishers Weekly, LitHubInterview Magazine, Vogue, The Millions, amongst others. Her debut story collection in progress – Closest Without Going Over – was shortlisted for the Mary McCarthy Prize. Stories in the collection have been translated into Latvian and Swedish and have appeared widely in the U.S. DeWitt pens an occasional nonfiction column about art, literature, film, politics ad poetics for The Believer, called “Various Paradigms.” She was the recipient of a MacDowell Fellowship. She is currently at work on a novel called Beneficio.