Pigeon Pages Interview with Melissa Febos
Do you have a bird story or favorite feathered friend?
Until I was four, my family lived in Springfield, MA, down the street from a park called Forest Park, the site of a few important early lessons. One day, a man exposed himself to my mother while she was jogging there, which was both horrific and baffling. Another day, my dad and I were walking home and came upon a dead crow on a dirt path. I’d never seen a dead thing before, never had death explained to me, but there it was, and so my dad explained how we all would die someday and basically turn back into dirt, which sounded fine to me.
What is your most memorable reading experience?
Most of childhood qualifies as a reading experience. I used to read for so many hours as a kid that I would get stoned on reading, drift out of my bedroom and not really remember how to talk, or what my life was. There are some parts of my early life that were so saturated with fictional characters that I remember them better than actual people.
What makes you most excited about Abandon Me?
The same thing that makes me excited about everything I ever write: the furious need to dig into something, the almost corporeal sense that my survival depends on it. Mary Oliver calls the part of us that the writing comes from a “wild and silky part” and for me it presents a way of escaping my ordinary thinking mind, a fundamental intelligence that is deeply engaged with the world and imagination, and unbothered by fear and worry and whatever bullshit I’m “thinking” about the rest of the time, which is mostly myself. I mean, publishing a book is exciting, but it doesn’t touch that feeling of complete engrossment, the self-forgetting that happens when I’m deep in the guts of a book.
To tweet or not to tweet?
Oh, I’m a terrible tweeter. I really appreciate people who are good at it. But the place I access when I write, the reason I write, is far, far away from the place where tweets happen. If I didn’t have a job, maybe I could do both. But I do have a job, so, I just enjoy other people’s twitter talents and retweet animal GIFs.
What books do you have in your bag right now?
A new edition of Jeannette Winterson’s Gut Symmetries (imminent from Granta Books). We the Animals by Justin Torres and The Other Side by Lacy Johnson, both of which I’m teaching this semester.
Can you tell us your favorite rejection story?
I can’t possibly choose a favorite. It’s such a rich genre.
What literary journals do you love?
Sinister Wisdom! Hunger Mountain! Room! Oh, and I guess Tin House is doing pretty decent work.
What shakes your tail feathers?
Dancehall, mostly. But I’ll shake my tail feathers to almost any kind of music.
What advice do you have for fledgling writers?
The best thing I ever did as a fledgling writer was quit drinking and drugs. And write as much as I could, no matter what.
What other eggs do you have in your basket right now?
I’m working on another essay collection (they tell me it’ll be published in a couple years, so hopefully it’s done by then). Writing a book is an egg so big there isn’t room in my basket for much else. I’m trying to train myself to eat off of plates instead of just my fingers by the light of the open refrigerator door. I’m working on putting the seat down before I flush. I’m trying to feel all my feelings. It’s all very hard work.
Melissa Febos is the author of the acclaimed memoir, Whip Smart (St. Martin’s Press 2010), and the essay collection, Abandon Me (Bloomsbury 2017), an Indie Next Pick that The New Yorker called “mesmerizing,” and was named a Best Book of 2017 by Esquire, Book Riot, The Cut, Electric Literature, Bustle, Medium, Refinery29, The Brooklyn Rail, Salon, The Rumpus, and others. Her second essay collection, Girlhood (Bloomsbury), will be published in 2019. Her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Tin House, Granta, The Believer, The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, Salon, Guernica, Dissent, Glamour, Prairie Schooner, Poets & Writers, Lenny Letter, The Guardian, Elle, Vogue, and elsewhere, and her essays have won prizes from Prairie Schooner, Story Quarterly, and Center for Women Writers at Salem College. She is a three-time MacDowell Colony fellow, and has also received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Vermont Studio Center, The Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Ragdale, and The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is currently an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Monmouth University. She serves on the Board of Directors for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and co-curated the Manhattan reading and music series, Mixer, for ten years. She lives in Brooklyn.