Pigeon Pages Interview with Elizabeth Gaffney

Elizabeth Gaffney pic.jpg

Do you have a bird story or favorite feathered friend?

When I was in kindergarten, my class adopted a bird with a broken wing that was found in the courtyard of the school.  I think it was a house finch.  We nursed her back to health, if not flightworthiness, and named her Margalo, after the bird in Stuart Little.  My family's own pet was a Labrador retriever, but Margalo used to come home with me over the holidays. I loved her.

What is your most memorable reading experience?

I can't decide if it was reading Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics on a lawn at Vassar College or binge reading all three volumes of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy on the couch of my apartment sometime around the year 2000, when the third book, The Amber Spy Glass came out. That lawn and that couch both seemed to have a magical quality, allowing me to forget everything else in the world but what I was reading.

What makes you most excited about your own writing, teaching at NYU, and being Editor-at-Large of A Public Space

I get very excited about helping writers go from an idea, an inspiration, an early draft to a honed and polished finished version of a story, or even a novel.  This applies equally to my students and to the writers I get to work with as an editor.  It even applies to myself, I guess.  It's so exciting to go from an idea for a book or story to the published product.  It's especially nice when it's actually printed and bound.  Long live paper.

To tweet or not to tweet?

I'm in the not too much category.  I do it when I have something to say.  I don't do it in order to have something to say.

What book(s) do you have in your bag right now?

I've recently been reading Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross, a college classmate of mine and the editor of the Sewanee Review.  It's dark and funny, just what I'm presently in the mood for.

Can you tell us your favorite rejection story?

I guess the best rejection stories all end in acceptance…  For quite a while I've been sending out a very long story of mine – a novella, really.  It was rejected by many magazines, and by practically every place I could think of that published long stories.  I had it out on submission to a couple journals simultaneously, and one of them had had it so long I'd given up on hearing back.  Then, just recently, it was accepted by both almost at the same time.  It's called "Devoted," and it's going to be in the next issue of The Seattle Review.

What literary journals do you love?                                  

A lot of them, but I have to throw my heart behind the one I work for, A Public Space.  We find work that wouldn't otherwise get seen, which is what I think literary magazines' purpose is.  We have an emerging writers' fellowship that not only finds new writers but fosters their development through mentorship and community. 

What shakes your tail feathers?

My kids, and seeing them create without inhibition.  It's a reminder to me to let go of a lot of self-censoring and premature-editing, especially in the early phases of writing.

What advice do you have for fledgling writers?

Throw yourself into the world, so you have something to write about.  Read everything, so you have models and inspiration. And persevere – it's not easy.

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

I'm working on a novel in stories called Little Monsters, the third novel in my New York series, which is called The Brooklynites, and a middle-grade novel about two deaf girls that I'm co-writing with a close friend.


Elizabeth Gaffney is the author of the novels Metropolis and When the World Was Young.  She's translated 4 books from German and published many short stories in literary magazines, most recently A Public Space, Conjunctions and Craft.  A Brooklyn native and founding member of the editorial staff at A Public Space, she also teaches writing at A Public Space, The New School, NYU and at Queens University's low-residency MFA program.