Okay lets start with something straight to the point, why write Rachel?
It doesn’t pay the rent. Oprah isn’t going to interview me. Friends smile, “That’s great!” Others don’t get it – my own mother told me my first novel was, “boring.” I doubt everything about my prose. Writing, for me, is deep, digging work that I don’t want to do, and still I do it because some internal chaos requires me to dissect and understand, reconceptualize so I can let go. I use the chaos. I write in circles, get a feel for what the irritant is just under my skin, and, in a hundred scratching rewrites, massage my subdural aggravation into a pearly story-form. Connecting with a reader is a writer’s work.
Sometimes the word artist doesn't get carried over to writers, for you what about writing makes it art?
For decades I’ve contemplated what makes something art (spoiler: there is no definitive answer). Spider webs when hung with dew are beautiful, but they are not art. Art is made by humans consciously creating something in which the unconscious appears, and it sparks the patron in such a deep and usually unconscious way that the patron walks away transformed; in some corner s/he is thinking new thoughts and feeling new feelings.
Creating this conduit from maker, to object, to audience - is the artist’s job. It takes skills that have become part of the artist, freeing-up moments for serendipity. An old village sculpture in Mali, West Africa, said to me, “Sometimes, what comes from my hands surprises me.” Art is not limited by medium, only by an artist’s courage and practical ability. But even more, unless genre is your genre, an artist must be willing to let bodily – somatic – knowledge shine through. To me, that risk is the primary difference between a painter and an artist, a writer and an artist, a singer and an artist…
So many different elements of life seep into a writer's work but I am curious about how you feel the idea of cultural appropriation affects your writing?
Bharati Mukherjee, a Brahman novelist who wrote sympathetically from the perspective of India’s Untouchables, was criticized for her appropriation of a social caste not her own. Mukherjee responded that her critic was trying to “assassinate her imagination” – the phrase stuck. Cultural appropriation is a huge issue with today’s creatives, but as old as civilization and, for me, it’s personal. I’m a white American. My academic career focused primarily on Africa Art. I know, however, that we are all appropriators.
Henry Moore's Chacmools? Norma Kamali's mud cloth? Yoyo Ma interpreting Brahms? Samin Nosrat cooking American? Binyavanga Wainaina wearing pants with a zipper? I'm confused. Doesn’t postmodernism make cultural appropriation irrelevant? Find me something – anything – that has not been appropriated, combined, reinterpreted, and conceptually or practically recycled. Ideas newly introduced, in a creative mind develop into forms yet newer; everything we think, everything we create can be traced to a fossil. What makes this not okay? What makes it okay to assassinate a generous imagination?
Rachel's stories have appeared recently in Immersion 1966, #82 Review, Raw Art and Hot Metal Bridge - the submission chosen for the creative non-fiction Social Justice Prize. A 2017 Fulbright granted Rachel with a month's residency at the Writers House in Ventspils, Latvia. Rachel's debut novel 'Parker and Jack' was published by a small press in 2014. She holds a PhD in art history.