Pigeon Pages Interview with Sophie McManus

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Do you have a bird story or favorite feathered friend?

As a little kid I attended a summer camp at Cathedral St. John the Divine. It was the 80s, and kids were not really watched and tended like they are now. I remember all summer feeling certain no adult there would notice if a child went missing, or even had glanced once at our faces. Later, when I read Lord of the Flies, I thought of the children’s collective self-organization, built on the brute power of gangs and speed—one pack chasing another, forcing another to the dirt. I often wandered all around the great shadow of the cathedral, alone. Only then would I encounter one of the many peacocks that roamed the cathedral grounds. They, too, were avoiding the other children. They were bigger than me, and always in a foul mood, hissing and spitting. I realize now they spent all year unmolested by children, and did not appreciate being displaced by the camp, or stalked or taunted. More than once, a peacock flipped it’s beady eye at me, raised up its heavy, glistening fan, hissed, and charged me. It was wonderful, full of the terror of life.   

What is your most memorable reading experience?

I read Madame Bovary on a train crossing the French countryside, and I drank wine and ate cheese and looked out the window and really it’s the best alone-thing I ever did, save the time I read Beloved on the New York train that runs along the Hudson river, at dusk, and the clouds hung and rolled over the river and I read the last line of the book as we  pulled into Grand Central and then I went to the Oyster Bar and had a cup of chowder at the bar.

What makes you most excited about The Unfortunates? 

That I am no longer writing it! And that I can point to a tangible thing in the world and say, I made that. I’m too far outside of it now to say anything else.

To tweet or not to tweet?

Man, I avoided that whole fascinating, soul sucking shit show, and then the election sent me into a panic of, amongst other things, realizing the depth and breadth of my own ignorance, and now I am hooked. I hate it, and I learn so much from it. But I’m more of a lurker.

What books do you have in your bag right now?

Autumn, by Ali Smith, and Franklin Foer’s World Without Mind

Can you tell us your favorite rejection story?

Not a specific one, but I remember it was a surprise and a revelation that I could survive rejection and it didn’t damn matter to me or the work, that the work was stronger than the no. That was one of the most important things that ever happened to me as a younger person, maybe. Dave Chapelle has this phrase in his newer stand up, “brittle spirit.” Weather your rejections honestly, you might come out knowing how strong the spirit is. And that it’s capable of changing, of getting stronger. That is a mighty powerful place from which to proceed.

What literary journals do you love?

So many, but just off the top of my head, A Public Space and Tin House.  

What shakes your tail feathers?

Sitting around with the goons that are my family. (That’s a dull answer but true.)

What advice do you have for fledgling writers?

Be unabashedly kind to the writing in the beginning and kindly bash it at the end.

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

I’m moving to a busted old farm. We shall see what happens there. Here’s hoping the ghosts like our jokes.   

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Sophie McManus is the author of the critically acclaimed novel, The Unfortunates, which is a Barnes & Noble Great Writers Discover Award Finalist, was shortlisted for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, long listed for the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, and named a notable or best book by The Washington PostEntertainment WeeklyTimeTime Out, and the Evening Standard, among others. Her work has appeared in American Short FictionOTin HouseThe Washington Post, and elsewhere. She teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College, in New York.