Updated: May 22, 2022
This post is a chat with amazing Arya F. Jenkins. A poet, flash, short stories writer. She has published in many journals and zines. Her fiction has received several nominations for the Pushcart Prize and one nomination in 2021 for the Best of the Net Anthology. Her poetry chapbooks: Jewel Fire (AllBook Books, 2012), Silence Has A Name (Finishing Line Press, 2015), and Love & Poison (Prolific Press, 2019) are my favorites. She also has a short story collection, Blue Songs in an Open Key (Fomite, 2018) and a mixed genre novel, Punk Disco Bohemian (NineStar Press, 2021). Soon, a second collection, Angel in Paris & Other Stories, is due out in 2022. So, who is this mysterious Arya?
Hello Arya. It's wonderful to have you here. Let's start by telling us about yourself and how you became a writer?
Yes. I’m a Colombian American who lived in South America before moving here with my family in the mid sixties while still very young. My mother became a writer in this country, using English as a second language and I helped her as a reader, listener and editor in my early teens. I come from a legacy of writers, as my maternal grandfather, who was a judge in Colombia, also wrote books. My writing legacy is entwined with politics and governmental repression, something my familiars have historically addressed, in the courtroom and in prose. I am also a descendant on my mother’s side of the surrealist Andre Breton, who was a literary deviant. My mother and sisters and I were all avid readers and regularly discussed literature and politics growing up, so writing, in all the ways I did as a girl, journaling, writing poetry and compositions, evolved from this story-telling environment and from the awareness that to write was somehow dangerous or threatening.
In your website, I read that you categorize your books under the transgressive genre. Why is that?
Growing up in a very white upper class suburban landscape in Connecticut, I was acutely aware of my differences, which extended beyond my background to gender preference and to my political leanings, which are very much to the left. Everything I have experienced would seem to apply to the transgressive label. We write from the place from which we come and sometimes from a complicated relationship to those places and from the struggle to overcome.
That's very interesting but why did you decide to write in this genre?
Since one writes about what one knows generally, I really had no choice but to embark upon a study of diversity when I began looking at who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. We live in a world of differences in which mostly whites and those who think along prescribed norms have the upper hand--straight people get first serve; men continue to overpower women and even claim rights over their bodies, etc. It feels important to write about difference, and in my case, the struggles in which I have been steeped as a bicultural and someone who deviates in so many ways from the norm.
I also wanted to expand the notion of transgressive, which is somehow associated with badness—bad that is both good and not so good. All transgressives are not alike. I am not like Kathy Acker, for example. I don’t wear a leather jacket-- because I am concerned about the planet and animal rights. I consider myself a compassionate transgressive and those two ideas have generally been considered mutually exclusive.
Basically, I loathe labels and resist even the transgressive one, and so expanding it, diversifying to the point of blowing a reader’s mind, has definitely been my intent in my two published books, Blue Songs in an Open Key and Punk Disco Bohemian.
Blue Songs in an Open Key features stories inspired by jazz, bebop in particular, that stretch boundaries, stylistically and thematically. Punk Disco Bohemian, which is about a young multicultural woman’s search for her identity in a world in which women do not appear to have a place, pays homage to diversity while tossing its importance out the window even as it celebrates a unique time and place, Provincetown in the 70s.
About Punk Disco Bohemian, what is it about?
It’s about a 17-year old, Ali, who is part North American, Argentinian and French, and who runs away from suburbia and a world that excludes her, to the one place she associates with freedom--Provincetown on Cape Cod. The story takes place in the mid 1970s, when women and gays in the U.S. were just coming to own their rights and power. It’s what I call memo-historical, part truth and fiction or mixed genre. In Provincetown and in New Orleans Ali’s sexual and other adventures lead to an awakening of sorts that helps her grow into a deeper awareness of her personhood, which includes her roots, both cultural and literary.
Where did you get inspiration for this book?
Most of my short stories as well as my novel have evolved from my own experiences, both in this country and South America. The process of creatively entwining imagination and reality has worked for me and continues to work for me as a writer. In doing so, I aimed to address the struggles of my youth while connecting them to the struggles at large that beset young women of my generation and in particular, queers and those who deviate from societal norms.
How do you think transgressive fiction can impact the queer community?
I think a celebration of difference is at the root of the transgressive idea, but, as you yourself have written in your blog, the transgressive notion far exceeds that of sexuality in writing. It’s a way of thinking and being that includes sexuality, but is certainly not limited to it. Within this genre we have to explore further what it means to be human beyond all the boxes, labels and ideas that society has imposed on us and that we have imposed on ourselves. Along with that, the queer community has to be explored more. What is it exactly? Maybe we are all the humans that we are in the moment and something different constantly that we can’t peg. Then what?
It’s a way of thinking and being that includes sexuality, but is certainly not limited to it.
As a writer, do you have any specific routines and habits?
No, not at this point. There was a time in my early 20s, when I was starting to write short stories and was working as a journalist, when I could easily spend 8-10 hours writing. I was discovering my relationship to language and it was deep immersion. But I’ve been at this writing practice a while now and am comfortable with it, so I sit down to write whenever I am moved to. Often reading inspires a poem or story and I may write it into a notebook or just head to my laptop and type out a first draft. The key with me is not being satisfied with the end result until I’ve given the story time to settle. As is true in life, nothing ever results exactly as I planned or imagined.
Which of your book characters is your most favorite? From which book and why?
That’s a great question. And I wish there was one, but to be honest, I have to say my experience is my favorite character since my characters have helped to shape my understanding of my experience and together comprise it. It would be very accurate to say that every one of my characters represents an aspect of me that I have tried to hone and evolve through my writing. In “So What,” the story that launches my collection, Blue Songs in an Open Key, a rebellious girl struggles to relate to her absent father. Her rawness and potential come to further fruition in the main character of the last story, “Lulu and Me,” in Blue Songs in an Open Key, about a young woman’s sexual fling with a blues singer in Provincetown and New Orleans. Both stories provided the main literary inspiration for Punk Disco Bohemian and the character of Ali, who is a composite of the main characters in each of those stories.
Do you think the hyper-sensitive world of today is the enemy of transgressive writers? Why or why not?
I personally pay less attention to who is my enemy and more to who is my friend in the literary world. Who is interested in reading about the people I care about, most of whom are left of center, outcasts, queers, people with unique experiences and ideas trying to thrive in a world that has largely excluded them. Of course it’s true that if the literary world were more accepting, most of my friends who write and I would be struggling less to get published and to make money at what we do. We would have the acceptance and hunger for our work of the big publishing houses, which want best sellers and marketable people promoting their books, people who are often more interested in pleasing than in saying what is true. Ultimately, what matters is the quality of a work, even if it’s not celebrated by the mainstream. It’s possible to be both proactive and provocative in one’s writing and I would rather view my journey as a bridge than a wall.
Thank you Arya for joining us today. You're an inspiration. Write on!
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