INTERVIEW WITH WRITER ARDEN ELI HILL

Morty: Hi Arden. Are you ready to chat?

Arden: Sure!

Morty: My first question has to do with your work…how did you decide writing would be the thing you would dedicate yourself to. 

Arden: I fought the idea of being a writer at first. This might have been in part because I thought I was going to be a medical doctor (like a dermatologist or something)  

Morty: Really!

Arden: Yup. The gender neutrality of “Doctor” also might have appealed to me on a subconscious level.Eventually, I realized that in any career I thought of for myself, I saw myself writing. I realized what a large space writing had in my passions. It was just bigger than a lot of my other life ideas.  I actually never took creative writing classes in college although I did write a chapbook of poems for an independent study and again for my undergraduate thesis.  I quickly dropped the pre med major. I didn’t like the science classes or blood and guts.

Morty: And now you’re in a PhD program?

Arden: Yes, out on the prairie.  I got my Masters of Fine Arts in poetry from Hollins University but, because I still like the critical components of writing, I decided to pursue a PhD.

Morty: Have you always had an interest in writing?

Arden: The signs were there before I made the switch in school. In my advanced biology class in high school I wrote a paper that focused on the stereotype of the “evil albino” in literature and culture. I think I titled it the social consequences of albinism or something “very scientific”.  I’ve always written poetry. Eventually I branched out into creative non fiction and fiction..and erotica. Poetry is what I’m working on the most in my PhD program.

Morty: Because you’re getting a Phd, does that mean you want to teach? 

Arden: Absolutely.  I’m currently teaching in addition to taking classes, so that’s a tough load.  I’m looking forward to teaching at the college level after I graduate. Teaching writing while I am writing feel very complementary to me.  Having enough time to be the kind of teacher I want to be and still produce, publish, and keep up with the work of other writers can be tricky but I’m learning.  I have and have had many great teachers as mentors.

Morty: Poetry can be very hard for people - what do you say to those who find poetry hard to “get”?

Arden: There might be multiple meanings behind a poem. Also, the language can just be delicious on the tongue… I think in my own poems I try to tie language and imagery to some element of narrative.

Morty: Yeah, I see that in a lot of your work.

Arden: There is still poetry I don’t get. Sometimes this does prevent me from enjoying the poem.

Morty: Well, I love poetry. I tend to enjoy the more narrative stuff.

Arden: Yeah, I love hearing a story.

Morty: Some of your work focuses on disability. Can you talk to me about that?

Arden: I write from the perspective of a bi-polar person. This has connected me to other kinds of disability and crip communities. I also tend to have crip lovers and write about relationships so disability appears in that approach as well. Recently, I’ve been focusing on formal poetry (sonnets and sestinas mostly) about disability. There is an appealing connection there between human form and poetic form. Some of my poems are explicitly about disability but even the ones that are not are filtered through my experiences of disability. It works the same way with gender and sexuality in my work as well.

Morty: Right, which brings us to some of my questions about gender.

Arden: Dun dun dun!

Morty: Ha ha! Yes! First, how do you identify regarding gender?

Arden: I primarily identify as “genderqueer.” I also use “transgender.” Sometimes to keep it simple (or try to) I use “FTM” but then I get really caught up in qualifying. I also identify as a femme. In terms of pronouns, I prefer “ze” and “hir” but function primarily with “he” and “him.” Pronouns stress me out a little when I’m writing my bio.

Morty: When did you begin to identify as such?

Arden: I had the ideas as a kid and started finding words in college.

Morty: Since this is a magazine about gender variant and trans artists/writers I always ask “Do you identify as a “genderqueer writer”? Or “trans writer”? Or does that feel way too limiting?

Arden: It doesn’t feel limiting. Gender is an important part of what I write about and also a huge piece of myself as a writer. I’ve been heavily influenced by strong women writers which I think is a direct result of having been raised as a girl. My 9’th grade English teacher called me her little Sylvia (Plath).  I’ve cheered up some. I think being trans has also helped expose me to the work of trans poets like Ely Shipley, Stacey Waite, and Trish Salah. I don’t think being a trans or a genderqueer poet means that my work is not relevant to cispeople or to the larger communities of writing.

Morty: Have you found a trans/queer poetry community?

Arden: I’m a little isolated out here in Nebraska but I’m still connected to a writing community in Boston. When I lived there Toni Amato, who runs Write Here Write Now, played a large role in connecting me and other writers to community as well as connecting writers to their craft. Google and Facebook are good starts for finding trans poets and also asking other trans poets who they are reading. Often times the people listening to and reading poetry are also writing.

Morty: Regarding building community - how would you recommend artists and writers start that process? I’m curious as to how others, including yourself, might help out the newer generation of young trans writers? 

Arden: I don’t think I am part of the older generation.  I haven’t had enough history yet with my own identity and I’m still emerging in terms of publications.  I’m not sure how much has to do with age.  I’m 32 but am frequently read as a high school student despite the smattering of grey in my hair (thanks grad school). I am pretty familiar with the application process in terms of graduate programs in writing.  This can be particular daunting for young writers (I think especially genderqueer and trans writers) because of all the little boxes and past history complications.  The fact that I went to a women’s college used to make me very nervous in terms of applications and resumes but it has been ok.  I’m much better qualified to talk about entering academia than how to promote a novel.

Personally, I turn to writers who have published books, or who have taught writing, for advice.  I also point younger writers to writing contests and relevant journals. Facebook has been really useful in connecting with all sorts of folks.  People can post and re-post calls for submissions which, I think, has increased the amount of exposure trans and genderqueer work receives.

Going to writing events like conferences and readings is also helpful.  Some of them are more costly than others. If a person has a couch in a city where there is a writing conference then perhaps someone can offer that sleep space to a young writer, who might find their path to attending the conference a little easier. We all have things we want or need and we all have things we can do or give.  Money is not the only thing of value.  More seasoned writers can read the work of emerging writers and offer feedback. Younger writers have an incredible amount of enthusiasm and immediacy so the benefits of an established writer working with an emerging one are not one sided.  

I also recommend that writers selling chapbooks and such to set aside a certain amount of books to be given to writers who otherwise would not be able to get them.  

Morty: I want to go back to asking you about your work. What prompted the foray into erotic stories?

Arden: I had a really positive experience reading an erotic piece in a writing workshop. I sent it out, it got accepted, and I’ve been writing erotica ever since. I actually really like to read it out loud too. I’m more unselfconscious reading my erotica than my poetry out loud. I’m more of a page poet than a stage poet

Morty: What is your piece about in the trans/genderqueer erotica book Take Me There?

Arden: It’s about a boy who first appeared to me in a poem. Ze is “out on loan” to a femme mistress. It’s hot and it has a bit of tenderness to it too.

Morty: Hmm, based on someone real?

Arden: Bits and pieces… Most of my poems as well as my erotica stories are in the first person. This can be sort of funny depending on what kind of literary voice I’m using.

Morty: You’ve published a lot of your work in literary magazines and you are one of the poetry editors of the journal Breath and Shadow. What advice would you give for those looking to publish their work?

Arden: Writing can be a really private, sometimes isolating practice. I’d advise writers to find other writers to share work with. Being a part of writing groups has helped me get my work to a publishable state. The moral support is a big plus too because there are going to be many rejection letters. Just keep trying and be smart about where the work is being sent. Pay attention to what writers or what style of writing is being published by a magazine to see if your writing would be a good fit. Calls for submissions can be a great way to find magazines and anthologies that are looking for work on specific subjects. Also, for writers who are more established, help the newer folks out by building connections and community.

Morty: Wonderful, those are great ideas.How did it come about that you became a Lambda Literary Fellow?

Arden: I believe Charles Flowers told me about the program at an AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference but it might have also been at the Saint’s and Sinners writing conference down in New Orleans.  I applied, got in, and had amazing support from Lambda and people in the community.  I really enjoyed the people I met there and the time to focus on writing in such a queer environment.  At some point I’d like to go back for fiction or creative non-fiction.

Morty: It seems the main advice to give to queer and trans writers reading this is: apply and submit, you may just get in! What do you have planned for yourself in the coming year other than being in school?

Arden: Hehe, so I won’t say homework! Well, I need to send out more work. I also need to read more.

Morty: Anything else?

Arden: Well, I need to go running too!

Morty: Yeah, I have exercise in my to do list, too…

Arden: I have an essay I’ve been picking at for awhile now and I’d really like to place it somewhere. I need to follow the advice I gave and send out work because that’s a crucial step in the publishing.  In about a week I’m headed down to Louisiana where I grew up.  I’ve been writing more about race and identity especially in regards to family and adoption.  I might pull a “ding dong you’ve got my chromosomes” approach to meeting my biological family.  It should be a pretty intense trip but I’ll take notes and I’m sure that whatever comes out of it will appear in my writing.  Sometimes knowing that something scary will prove useful to my writing helps me get past my fear.


To read work and find out more about Arden Eli Hill please visit the following links: 

No Name Reading Series Podcast - Arden comes in at the end of minute 13. 

Wordgathering.com

Breath and Shadow - Journal of Disability Culture and Lit

Willow Springs Literary Journal

Take Me There - Book of Trans and Genderqueer Erotica