Seattle writer Elissa Washuta is going to New Zealand. Read on to find out why she’s headed to that part of the world and how she gets preoccupied with poetry.
What are you working on these days?
Washuta: I’m working on my third book. I don’t like to say too much about it, because I find that it’s really not very good for my writing process to say too much about work that hasn’t been written yet. I’ve killed a lot of essays, and even whole books, that way. But I’m working on an essay collection, or two, or three. I’m burrowing into texts the same way I did with a college term paper in My Body Is a Book of Rules and filling those textual containers with my own story.
I’m also the writer-in-residence at the Fremont Bridge this summer, and I’m just beginning a big project about the bridge, the Lake Washington Ship Canal, the land, the water, and the unseen world.
What story or book have you read lately that’s stuck with you? Why did it resonate?
Washuta: Last Sext by Melissa Broder. I often feel kind of lost when I read poetry because I get preoccupied with questions about what makes a poem a poem and how line breaks work–the stuff I’ve been told not to worry about. Last Sext was different because it was like the speaker’s language had come out of my own body: “The hole I fill with sickness this time / Every time / This is what I do with love”
You’re going to New Zealand’s WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. What’s the plan for you there?
Washuta: Right now, I plan to participate fully in the festival. I will be reading and speaking at least a couple of times, and I plan to attend other events as much as possible. I’m going to be part of an Indigenous writers panel, and I’m making my first PechaKucha! I haven’t made any other plans because I’m not very good at travel. I’ve never been outside the US or Canada and I’m a little inept at sightseeing and planning for that, having never done much travel apart from book tour events, conferences, and work trips. I’m open to suggestions for things to do in Christchurch. I plan to be curious and happy.
A lot of your writing is influenced by your background as a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. You’ll be taking that experience to New Zealand to teach a non-fiction writing workshop with Maori writers. Do you think there are experiences or themes that come up time and again in the writing of native people? Why?
The things that I think a lot of readers identify as common themes in work by Native American writers–identity, land–are, really, common themes in work by non-Native writers, too. There is so much variation in theme, structural approaches, style, and subject matter in work by Native writers. I think that some readers who approach the “Native American” shelves in bookstores are expecting to find books about dead people, tradition, war, spirituality, and reservations. Perhaps that’s changing. So many of us don’t appear on those shelves, and so many of us are concerned with all sorts of other things: Law & Order, Disney characters, illness, cities, language, detective stories, parenting, vampires–the list is actually endless. I can barely even begin to create it.