What are you reading on the subway or in the waiting room today?
I’m slutting out on all sorts of books right now. I’m reading Meredith Maran’s Why We Write About Ourselves.
“Making art is all about humans and our psychology: who we are, how we behave, what we do with the hand we’ve been dealt. It’s closer to your own bone when it’s a memoir, but the bone is still the bone.”
I’m reading that to remember the why of it all and to keep on pushing, and to feel like I’m surrounded by a bunch of kick ass women writers—like the dopest toughest smartest lovingest girl gang there is.
I’m also reading Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies because she is one of the head bitches in my girl gang. She reminds me how dense and beautiful and patient writing can be if you construct in longhand.
And then if really I’m in a waiting room where someone might pop out at any minute and I can’t be deep in some soupy fictive dream but I gotta be quick with it, I’m reading The Best of 2015 Magazine Writing. I always aspire to write a piece of investigative journalism but it seems that it keeps coming out as a lyrical narrative piece. I don’t know how that happens but I admire the straight shooters.
What book popped for you in 2015?
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World and Me because, well, he led me on a separate road but one that pointed back toward Baldwin, who reminds me of the power of words.
“Why for example—especially knowing the family as I do—I should want to marry your sister is a great mystery to me. But your sister and I have every right to marry if we wish to, and no one has the right to stop us. If she cannot raise me to her level, perhaps I can raise her to mine.”
Those are some strong words. I guess my version would be, “Your sister…is my daddy. You’re welcome.”
What else… Of course the Elena Ferrante books. What a blast to go to Skylight Bookstore at midnight to buy the final book in the Neapolitan series the very second it was available. To walk around and talk to other people wearing Ferrante Fever buttons and eat cheese and share stories of complicated female friendships. I wish all book releases were filled with as much celebration and anticipation.
And Angela Flournoy’s debut, The Turner House. She is doing some stuff. That book is about everything. Haints and the inside cover has this massive family tree, and you wonder if you’re gonna be able to keep all the characters straight, and you do and the book is about love and family and Detroit, and reminds me of One Hundred Years of Solitude and Beloved and then it’s like nothing I’ve ever read before.
Whose words do you return to regularly?
Toni Morrison, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Baldwin, Joyce Carol Oates, Studs Terkel, Stephen King. This list kind of grows. But that’s a big part of the ride-or-die crew right there.
Is there an author you can’t wait to read next?
I spotted an arc of Dana Spiotta’s online today. Also I heard through the grapevine my tokiyo (that’s Tagalog for someone who shares your name) Melissa Febos has a collection of essays coming out. Slayerville: the both of them.
What are you working on now? What can VIDA fans look forward to from you next?
EEEK! My first novel, A Tiny Upward Shove, is forthcoming with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
MELISSA CHADBURN has written for Guernica, Buzzfeed, Poets & Writers, Salon, American Public Media’s Marketplace, Al Jazeera America, and dozens of other places. Her essay, “The Throwaways,” received notable mention in Best American Essays and Best American Nonrequired Reading.
She’s the community editor at the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. Her first novel, A Tiny Upward Shove, is forthcoming with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.