Meet the second of our two amazing interns for this fall semester, Zoë Henry, a senior Comparative Literature and Literary Arts double major at Brown University, who will be posting, reading, dreaming–anything but coffee-fetching for Atticus editorial.
Someone who is fluent in French and has been pre-professionally trained in ballet must have some serious dedication and work ethic. How do you find these passions correlate to your drive and love for literature? Are there similarities in practicing pliés and working on a short story?
As you can imagine, I’m used to juggling many different things at once. I think that this drive to succeed (as a dancer, a French speaker, etc.) necessarily translates– no pun intended– into creative writing and analysis.
I am so grateful for the people in my life who have pushed me outside of my comfort zone, whether it was from adagio to petit allegro (work on those lines!) or from fiction writing into prose poetry. My high school English teacher always used to say that I needed to “kill the little darlings”, in other words, those things that I loved most about my work in the first draft but that didn’t hold up upon review. It broke my heart a little bit to hear that. Finally, in accepting his criticism, I discovered how to get at something more complete. More meaningful. You can’t expect to be perfect on the first try, but it’s the desire to ultimately attain perfection (or having that excessively perfectionist attitude…) that gets you closer to the “darlings” that matter.
Are there any book-geek stereotypes that totally apply to you?
Oh yeah. I have the hipster “nerd” glasses to boot. I drink about four cups of coffee a day, and if I’m not out dancing (or trying to figure out my life), I’m usually curled up in bed with a good book. And don’t get me wrong—it’s not all Henry James and Victor Hugo. I’ve been known to dabble in chick lit, much to my roommate’s chagrin. Fun fact: I once broke my backpack trying to carry fifteen books to campus at once. (Literally, it ripped at the seams half-way down the street.) I’m actually a generally clumsy person, despite years of training in classical ballet and modern dance. I tend to tell my friends that I “save my grace for the stage”, because otherwise it’s just too embarrassing.
What’s your favorite way or place to find something new to read?
I love trolling the Underground New York Public Library. It’s one of my favorite websites, and I think it gives you a great idea of what the average person actually reads. (Obviously it depends on where you are—the Brooklyn Bound F-trainers, e.g., are more on the Holden Caulfield end of the spectrum.) But in general, and especially as a Brown undergraduate, I think that paying attention to the people around you is always the best way to learn something new.
Are there any books or authors’ work that you appreciate, but are also confused by? Are there any titles that you feel deserve second and third chances for their genius, or, quirkiness?
Elizabeth Fodaski. I remember reading her work for a class last semester, thinking that some of her lines were just GOLDEN, but I had literally no idea how to articulate what she was doing or why.
As to the second part of your question, I really admire writers that think outside the box, and go beyond classical conventions of storytelling. Kelly Link, I think, is a good example. I really delight in that challenge of the unconventional. I’m thinking especially of a piece like Stone Animals.
Who was the best reader you’ve ever seen or heard? What did they do that made it memorable, and, have you ever read your work in public? Do you have any tips?
Maurice Scully came to Brown last semester, and I found him to be such a dynamic reader. (He shared snippets of his latest collection Humming.) He’s the kind of writer that cares very deeply about conveying rhythm, assonance, consonance, etc., and I think that poetry in particular benefits from being read with an added emphasis on sound/sound quality. I’ve never read my work aloud before (except during in-class workshops), so I’m certainly eager to hear how other people do it.
In general, as with all things, I’m all about the passion. If you care about writing, and you care about sharing, that should (and will) shine through.
Do you see any problems or frustrations in publishing you’d like to be fixed? Even if it’s a long shot, do you have a suggestion or dream of how to make it better?
Part of why I love working for Atticus is their dedication to publishing “literature that matters”, i.e., stuff that isn’t necessarily going to “sell out” in the popular market, but which still has something really meaningful to say. As a writer, I think it’s often hard to get that kind of attention unless you write in a very specific way, and for a specific kind of audience. How, then, can you ever do anything original and get noticed for it? I would hope that in the future these smaller, independent publishers (like Atticus, Coffee House, etc.) could emerge more readily into the popular fore, and that as readers we might put down the Stephanie Meyer in lieu of something a bit more experimental.
Who are the two writers you would love to see co-author a book?
Zadie Smith and George Saunders. I think that they both have an amazing sense of humor, and I would love to see how their styles mélange. (I’m thinking specifically of books like Tenth of December and White Teeth. Can you imagine?)
Do you have any topics you obsess about in your reading or writing?
Gender. Being a woman has certainly affected the way that I read, write, and experience the world. The more I’ve evolved as a student and within the professional community, the more I realize how difficult it can be to penetrate this tacit (but very real) social perception of the “feminine”. I’m particularly inspired by the blogger and writer Yashar Ali, who wrote an awesome piece entitled: “Why Women Aren’t Crazy.” You should check it out. It’s a great read.
What were you most excited for when you were ten, and what are you most excited for this year?
When I was ten years old, I was most excited to grow up. (That, and I couldn’t wait for the release of the next Harry Potter book.)
Now, I can’t wait to enjoy my final year at Brown. I am so blessed to be part of such a dynamic intellectual community, among some of the greatest friends that a person could ask for. Seriously, if you count yourself a college student, never let yourself forget how much that means. It doesn’t last forever!
Why are you interested in an internship in publishing, and with Atticus Books?
Having worked at an academic press, I would love to become a hands-on member of smaller, more literary publisher. Atticus is the perfect place for me because it focuses on the kind of literature that I care about, over pieces that are expected to “sell big” right now. Here, I finally have the opportunity to put what I’ve learned in the classroom into practice. And as a writer, I think it’s always important to remind ourselves of the environment that we’re actually writing for. Just as we can’t forget where we come from, so too should we always remember where it is that we’re trying to go.