INTERVIEW WITH CHEF / ARTIST BERLIN REED

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(Berlin Reed credit JuLee Lebert, 2012)

Morty: So, lets start by discussing your book tour for your new book, The Ethical Butcher.  How’s it been coming along?

Berlin: Tour was pretty good and full of the fun and wild travel experiences one would expect. This is my 4th year of touring but it was my first experience touring as an author with a book and having a publicist and more support in the logistics of travel like arranging flights, radio spots, bookstore events, etc. The highlights were getting to work with other underground chefs, chefs with vision and confidence and integrity. The same kind of work that I had done by myself before writing the book.  I had a great experience with a dinner in Chicago. That was the highlight of the entire trip. Shout out to Brave New Art World and Tuesday Night Dinner!

Morty: Tell me more about the Chicago dinner.

Berlin: It was a bunch of young chefs doing 4 courses in a collective art/living space called No Sandbox. The Tuesday Night Dinner crew has been doing underground dinners about as long as I have, they’ve just kept their magic in Chicago. They invited me to do a “Cameo Course” and do a book signing, sort of a guest chef thing. I did the main course. They booked a really good local DJ who kept the energy flowing. There were installations by local artists. All local and good food with all kinds of people. The whole thing was 30 bux to attend! It was a lot like the brunches 718 Collective, a  chef collective I co-founded, used to do in Brooklyn last year. It was just good times all around.

My course was a savory french toast thing I called pain perdu a la printemps. It was a duck egg french toast which I make by soaking bread in a savory custard for 8 hours before baking in lemon butter. It was topped with an oven jam made from ramps I foraged with my host chefs, and rode along with a fresh cherry tomato and purslane salad over a chive blossom buttermilk whipped cream. Oh, and the french toast was perched on a bundle of tea-braised ham hocks and salsify that I cooked in 3 stages over 2 days. The whole plate was maybe 5 bites. The other courses were equally beautiful and labor-intensive. People were stoked and I had such an inspiring time with the other chefs.

Morty: For those reading this interview that don’t know a lot about you, what would you say about who you are as a butcher/chef…the essence of it for you?

Berlin: Well basically, I started this food project in 2009 based around my becoming a butcher after 14 years of vegetarianism, which included a nice chunk of intense veganism. A few months after starting the blog, The Ethical Butcher, I started traveling around the country visiting farms and doing dinners with whole animals. Gradually, the events took on a life of their own, as a means for me to express my political views through art. Slowly, my attention shifted away from just meat and butchery to food culture and food justice in general. After a while, only talking about local foods and “sustainability” felt really one-dimensional. My events went from being whole animal farm dinners to community meals that focused on community engagement all the while challenging patriarchy and colonialism through food culture. I’m interested in turning the elitism of cuisine on its ass by creating these conceptual events and menus and charging 10-30 bux. I also bring all of my kitchen work and food thought together through writing. So, along the way, I got a book deal to write about The Ethical Butcher.

Morty: Sounds like it was a very organic process for you. Did the book deal come out of nowhere or were you looking to publish?

Berlin: I just set out on this journey and it came to me. An agent called me one day in early 2010 after she had read about me in some Brooklyn paper asked if I wanted to write a book. I figured, so many writers spend their lives trying to get an agent and I wasn’t even looking for one, I’d be an idiot to pass it by. So, I accepted her representation, and wrote a nonfiction proposal. My agent, Elizabeth Evans from Jean Naggar, a woman-owned and run agency in NYC, shopped it around, and in fall of 2011 I got a deal with Counterpoint Press.

Morty: How long did it take to write the book?

Berlin: Well, I never stopped touring, so it was really hard to work the writing in because I was in near constant motion. I had written a couple of chapters as part of the proposal and I started writing the rest last summer, while I was here in Montreal. I had been trying to settle back in NYC after the busy year of travel but was so busy with 718 Collective and the pace of NYC that I couldn’t write. I was coming up on my deadline, so I came up to Montreal to kick it on the cheap and focus on writing. Only, I didn’t focus on writing, I got really into the food culture. Eventually, I went to hid at a friend’s place in the mountains of Northern California to finish the book. The bulk of the writing happened over just a 2-month period last fall. City life was blocking me. Out there, I was able to be outdoors a lot and write all day.

Morty: So lets discuss the intersection of food justice, art and gender.

Berlin: Sure! My work and life intersect with those discussions quite a bit. I definitely work in a male-dominated patriarchal world that is traditionally based on strict hierarchy. Often the restaurant world and food culture are a crucial stage for classism, racism, sexism and misogyny.  Early on, I knew I had to get out of the restaurant world if I wanted to be happy in the culinary field because I couldn’t get down with those parts of kitchen culture. I stay mindful and purposeful about how being read as male affects how my actions are interpreted by others. The kitchen is a stressful environment and the traditional hierarchy controls that stress in shitty ways. When I’m working in a crew, like, if I’m collaborating or working with volunteers, I try to keep it moving forward and posi as possible. I make sure to work with mostly queers and rad people because I really can’t get down with Boys’ Club bullshit. I love kitchens that don’t have a head chef. 718 Collective was started with 2 other chefs in Brooklyn last year. 1 person did everything front of house, and myself and the other chef, Jesse Gold, a super rad genderqueer musician who had been a sous chef in restaurants for years, ran the service together on equal footing. I have always had my friends, queers and artists, to collaborate with, and keep my outreach to word-of-mouth and social media. Thoughtful food and skilled technique are exciting, but fancy restaurants pretty much bum me out. I really don’t want to run a business, I’m here to have fun and make art that has a lot of politic behind it. I don’t ever want to establish the atmosphere that “fine dining” restaurants do, which is usually a whitewashed version of whatever food culture they claim to be representing, if not an outright performance of capitalist elitism and the classism and racism that ensure its existence. That’s not my game.

Morty: So, this is your ethos of your work, to be on equal footing and cultivate a positive atmosphere….

Berlin: To work as equals, bring good food to everyone, support local communities and to generally decolonize my lifestyle and share what I learn along the way in order to help others to do the same. In the work I do, I honestly have to say that what I encounter most is racism and classism. Also, to be an artist and to be a non-academic intellectual. No knocks to those who are working to change academia, but I am proud to be where I am today without a formal education. I don’t have a degree, I don’t have a long list of Michelin restaurants on my resume. Being a non-formally educated black dude makes “earning” respect in this world quite a difficult process, regardless of achievement or goals. This is especially true for someone like me who doesn’t want to cling to traditional (read: white) masculinity for power. So, it is most important to me to be myself, represent my work fully and be as unapologetic in my critique of food culture as I am talented in creating delicious food. All I can do is exist in the ways that feel right and keeping working for something better.

Morty: Please explore that a bit with me - are you talking about your clientele?

Berlin: It’s not just my clientele. It’s the world that colonialism and western imperialism has built. There’s racism in the comments I might get at an event. Or in the fact that any given “fine dining” restaurant will be full of white people, but everything will be prepared and served by brown people. It is see it in peoples surprise that I could write the book I did without a college degree. It is in the fact that I am hard-pressed to find leaders and heroes who include people like me in their analysis. It is in the fact that not ONE week goes by without the news that yet another young black man or trans*woman has been killed or beaten or imprisoned. It’s a big question that can’t get answered in this interview.

Morty: Can we discuss your thoughts on trans-related race issues a bit?

Berlin: Sure….everything really switched for me when I began to be read as male, far before I started T. Becoming a black man in America is a rough triumph. My connection to my queerness and queer community changed completely, as did my connection to the world at large. Even by other queers I am read as a black man before I am read as queer. I’ve had people question my presence at queer events, I’ve had queers I know fearfully cross the street when they didn’t recognize me, I’ve been called a nigger in a queer dance party. It became more and more clear to me that “queer space”  really did not always mean space for me. My experience with transition was one of finding out who my real community is. 6 years later, my relationship to queerness, even trans* identity, is quite different than it was before I transitioned. Even looking through your blog, I was sad to see very few brown faces. It is tricky being a black masculine person, too, because while I am pushing for my own representation and inclusion, trans*women-of-color have even more to push against. The misogyny, racism, classism, transphobia and other bullshit present in the world is present in the queer community and I do wish there was some real movement on a lot of sticking points. So much racism and misogyny are tolerated, from femmephobia to exclusion of trans*women to body shaming and cultural appropriation.

Morty: I know you wrote for Original Plumbing for some time…can you tell me what you see in trans male culture?

Berlin: To be honest, these days I have a hard time separating transmale culture from masculine culture. Folks like myself who are read as cismales are afforded male privilege, and all masculine people benefit from misogyny and sexism. Just as all white people benefit from racism. Butch-women, studs, AGs- they can all perpetrate the same misogyny and I think queers give carte blanche to some people based on their identity. For instance, I’ve seen some butches pull the same antics that frat boys would, and other queers just laugh it off. Anyone and everyone who strives for normative masculinity is perpetuating the patriarchy.

It’s so boring!

I was read as male way before starting T. I’m really off and on…I’ve had two shots of .25 since last fall. It’s funny though, because I’ve never fully identified as male, I just know that’s the label I carry in this world. I don’t know. T itself… I wish I didn’t need it but I have a hard time with bleeding….physically, it has always been hard on me, so I’ve been thinking about getting back on.  

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(Berlin Reed by Texas Horatio-Valenzuela, 2013) 

Morty: Where do you see normative masculinity and power connect?

Berlin: Yeah. Power. That’s what everyone is taught to push for. I see it more as the privilege of masculinity over the privilege of maleness. I know that my personal experience has been that. Nobody questions my birth gender, so I’m read as cis, all the time. Many trans guys are. They benefit from the same privileges as a cisguy. Similarly, a stud or butch lesbian will get a lot of the same privileges. Normative masculinity has been defined by colonization as power and strength, domination and will. People who espouse these traits are thought to have power. That kind of power is an empty virtue.

Morty: How can we work to be masculine while working to stay feminists?

Berlin: Ya know, that’s been one of my main questions for the last two years because I’m trying to not only be a good feminist, but also rescue my own masculinity from a culture which is determined to eradicate it. I have had to learn how to carry this weight of being a black man in America, seeing people like me killed by police daily, seeing my “queer allies” misuse and appropriate images and artistic expressions of people like me. I have to do this while figuring out how to wear this masculinity in a way that does not rely on dominance or power, and while defending myself in a world that fears what it sees. There’s no safe harbor for that work within the queer community. At least, not one that I’ve found. Not when there are drag queens in blackface and white queers using ballroom slang and big black booties on party flyers. Using language like “cunt”, “hunty”, “what’s the T” and forming “houses” while labeling black music and black culture as misogynist and violent. Not while well-intentioned radicals are getting schooled in how to break up black families through social work programs and queers are gentrifying black neighborhoods, or white feminists are talking about “safety” in the ways that regard black and brown men as heathens. I love queers and queerness with all my heart, but the ways that oppression has remained a part of queer culture is heartbreaking at times. Working through that heartache to be a good feminist is hard, but it is always always at the forefront of my mind.

I really don’t know what’s to be done or where to start, and that can’t be my role. I think we all have to just do constant internal work to decolonize our minds and our lives, to constantly unpack our own baggage and check ourselves and surround ourselves with people who value that work. I think people need to reevaluate what being an ally means…because in a context of combating centuries of oppression being an ally mostly means sitting down and shutting up and listening. The way for us to be good feminists is to change masculinity and try our damnedest to be good dudes, even if we don’t identify as dudes. To be a good cis- ally is to change the way you think about gender. To be a good white person, you have to understand that the world is just totally fucked for other people and you’ll never get it but it’s still your job to work on your shit. We don’t get ribbons for not being racist or misogynist. We just have to work and keep trying to make things better for ourselves and our communities, whatever that means to each person.

Morty: Thank you for that. Part of doing these interviews is injecting this dialogue into the diaspora of trans art and literature. I personally do not think it is explicitly the role of a trans / gender variant artist to change all of these inequities but this is about knowing what we should be thinking about and what could happen in our communities if we work at it.

Berlin: For sure. I definitely think it is so important to expand the issues we talk about in the queer community and that really only happens through expanding the conversation to people from all sides of the community so, I thank you. I really often feel left out of the “queer dialogue”, even though my work is queer as fuck. People often don’t register food as art, or food justice as a queer issue.

Morty: Well, it is very obvious you have art and justice enmeshed into your work with food. Hopefully this interview can change some minds.

Berlin: It is validating to be included here and to discuss these topics. I used to say I wanted to create queer food culture… I now call it decolonial food culture.

Morty: Right, because even queer food culture is colonized. The question I always ask is if you call yourself a “trans/gv/gq artist”…do you put your gender identity front and center in a way where people are supposed to “see” it at all times?

Berlin: Nope. I sometimes use “queer” in reference to my work, and my work on Original Plumbing is very public but I almost never describe myself using trans/gv/gq unless I am speaking in a very specific context. For me, my trans identity is only one way of describing my gender and it is specifically a way of describing it that conforms to a western concept of sex and gender. It’s more of like a medical term to me. I  live my masculinity in a way that most people read as feminine, so my queerness is front and center. Most people read me as a fag and I definitely identify as a princely sort, so that works for me with representing my work. It is much more important to me that my work is seen as radical and challenging. I’m inquisitive and creative and full of energy and pissed as fuck about the state of the world, and I want that to be communicated more than I need people to know about my gender identity. I kinda stopped trying to pinpoint my gender years ago, so I don’t really care to dwell on teaching others how to read me. It is equally important to me to represent the man that I want to be, never the man I am told I should be. If I wanted to become a talking head, I could. If i wanted to be a pedantic lecturer, I could. If I wanted to shoot to the top of the chef world, I could. And that is not cockiness, that is the road before me because I’m a guy in a man’s world. But I want to use any power I am given to change this world and bring up the hard conversations. I want to share any space that I find with others who are seeking space, too. It’s been funny, with more mainstream media, they think they are about to get this ex-vegan, punk butcher dude who is gonna tell them some gnarly stories. Then they interview me and I’m talking about patriarchy in the kitchen and prison abolition!

Morty: Again, thank you for being here with me, Berlin. Because I do believe it is important to talk directly to trans people of color on this blog I would like to end the interview by giving those readers some last words of advice about how to do what you love. Your thoughts on how to be an artist and stay true to your vision in all that you do.

Berlin: Aww man, I could write this answer forever! I guess, when it comes to living a life that is authentic to who you are, I think it is just about learning to love and trust yourself. I know thats mad cheesy, but it is true. To be fulfilled as an artist and human, for me, meant getting out of all normative structures. I traveled for 4 years straight, just following my dream and making it happen. That’s not to diminish the work, the sacrifice and tears that it took to make it through those years. But I wouldn’t trade all of the uncertainty and hungry nights for a steady paycheck or stable home. I was committed to existing in the world in the way that felt right to me, and I finally found it. All that is not to say that having more stability can’t be a part of someone else’s plan. I think it is all about being honest with yourself and doing what is right and what works best. I think especially for those of us with marginalized identities that is incredibly difficult because we exist in a world that tells us we can’t be who we are and be happy. We also have few examples of successful people to look at for inspiration. What I often talk about with my closest friends is the fact that we as brown queer people were once the shaman, healers, midwives and witches that brought blessings and were thought to hold a closer connection to nature. I think that when we, as queer people of color, embrace our genius, we are liberating ourselves and acting as a light for others. Personally, I learn everything about being the man I need to be by watching the brown femmes in my life. I can go on about femme worship forever, too!

Morty: Perhaps the next time we talk! Thank you for the interview, Berlin. I am looking forward to joining you at one of your meals, hopefully soon!

Berlin: Thank you.


TO BUY BERLIN REED’S NEW BOOK, THE ETHICAL BUTCHER,

CLICK BELOW: 

http://www.amazon.com/The-Ethical-Butcher-Thoughtful-Eating/dp/1593765053

TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT BERLIN REED PLEASE

CHECK OUT THESE LINKS: 

TEN MINUTES WITH WRITER EVERETT MAROON

Morty: So, you’ve been a writer for quite some time now. How did you start writing?

Everett: I actually started writing as a kid, banging away on a cast iron Royal typewriter. I don’t have any of those stories anymore, but I’m sure they were funny and awful. I went to writer’s camp in high school and as a solid middle class teen I figured any career needed to be able to support me, so I focused on journalism, rather than battle my parents over doing something “artistic.” But lo and behold the idea of writing creative fiction and nonfiction keep tugging at me, and I eventually got back to it after a professional career in project management. Which is nothing like writing.

Morty: Do you see your book as creative nonfiction?

Everett: There are so many categories in the publishing world—genres, sub-genres, niche markets, etc.—I suppose memoir is a kind of creative nonfiction. I call it memoir or autobiography, because, well, books on the history of passenger cruises could be creative nonfiction. Not that there’s anything wrong with books on the passenger cruise industry.

Morty: Your book is a humorous take on your transition. Why did you decide to write about your trans experience, and why through the lens of humor? 

Everett: Great questions! I decided to write about my transition because I’d recently moved to a small town from a big city, and one of the first things anyone asked of me was to mentor a young trans man in town. He had some supportive friends, but very few resources in the way of figuring out where he saw himself in the great big gender nonconforming world, and I owed it to him not to push him in any one direction. It had to be his idea and his initiative. I’d struggled with that in my own transition, and it occurred to me that I could write a book which allowed for me to tell the just-coming-out trans person to be open to their own gender interpretation. And the only way I could figure out how to do that was to tell it from my own experience.

Humor, meanwhile, has been with me all of my life. It’s been the one thing I could count on in tough times or when making difficult choices. If I write anything about me and my observations, it will have at least a stream of humor in it. That said, my transition has really pointed out to me how ludicrous gender is in general. I really wanted to highlight that.


(Everett’s new book!) 

Morty: Do you have any specific ‘ludicrous gender moments’ from your book (or life) you wanted to share?

Everett: Well, there’s the moment when post-top surgery, my nipple scab fell off, down through my shirt and out my pant leg onto the floor of the men’s room at work while I was washing my hands at the sink. I wasn’t sure what to do about it! It’s a nasty rest room floor, but I “dropped” it after all. It was part of me, but not part I’d keep, and so on. Had anyone noticed? How long was I going to wash my hands while I wondered what to do about a freaking nipple scab? The thing was the size of a dime. I left it on the floor. I laughed at the marketing of products to trans people. Stand to pee devices, packies, binders … who was selling used items, who was complaining about the cost of a $12 packer, the ways in which manufacturers tried to appeal to us as a consumer group. That was strange and laughable at times.

Morty: Yes, I agree. I’ve worked in the sex toy industry, so I have experience marketing/selling some of those products. Speaking of work, do you have job on top of writing?

Everett: Right now I’m the acting executive director of an HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C advocacy and case management nonprofit. Which is a lot more of a mouthful than “writer.” It’s a whole different job but it’s much the same, in that I’m always tasked with messaging ideas to people.

Morty: I also saw on Facebook that you are a new father. Congrats! That must be amazing.

Everett: Watching the development of a tiny human figuring out their place in the world is really amazing, that’s a good word for it. When I get stressed about my own negotiation in culture, I can come and play with baby feet, and get a reality check on what’s really important. I’m so privileged to be a parent.

Morty: I am wondering how did you find the time to write in between work and family? How do you keep the balance?

Everett: It’s all about excellent time management and learning to live with some imbalance, as well as general chaos. I’ve nearly run out of gas twice this year because I keep forgetting little things like filling the tank. Plus gas is like the price of gold right now.

Morty: Do you have any advice for new writers?

Everett: For new writers—stick to your guns, write what you most care about, because you’ll be pushed on your work at some point and you need to really believe in it and its value. And, I know it sounds trite, but don’t give up! If you’re really interested in getting your work published, accept that you will get a lot of rejection notices. It’s helpful to save up money to attend writer’s conferences where you can network, pitch your books in person, and learn about what other people are doing in the industry. By the way, I got 18 rejections before my new book found a publisher.

Morty: Last question: What can you say about trans writers and the trans writing genre in general?

Everett: I think we’re at the cusp of a great wave of transgender writers and artists, I really do. We’ve been around for a long time but I feel us reaching a tipping point. Red Durkin, Tom Leger, your work, Ivan Coyote, S. Bear Bergman, Amos Mac, there are so many others (I blame new dad brain for not listing more), they’re all doing incredible work and I’m honored to be a tiny part of it.

Morty: Thank you! I am looking forward to reading your book!

Everett: Thank you, Morty! 



LINKS: 

Buy a copy of Bumbling Into Body Hair

Read the short story, Underwater, by Everett Maroon

Check Everett out on Facebook

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