Meet the Writer: Alyse Knorr @GazingGrain @BossFightBooks

Thank you so much to Alyse Knorr, whose non-fiction book Super Mario Bros. 3 I will be reviewing this summer, for taking the time to answer my questions about her life as a writer. Knorr has included many great links in her interview, but if you want to find out more, simply head over to her website.

Grab the Lapels: What kind of writing do you do?

Alyse Knorr: I like to do all kinds of writing. I primarily write poetry, but also non-fiction, fiction, reviews, and lots of work that doesn’t easily fit into any one category. My non-fiction book, for instance, blends memoir, research, reportage, and pop culture analysis in an in-depth study of the video game Super Mario Bros. 3. I often work in hybrid genres on book-length poetic projects; my three books of poetry are all narrative novels in verse, and my two poetry chapbooks are sequences. I’m currently at work on an opera libretto and on some critical writing about Elizabeth Bishop. I find it invigorating to constantly work in new forms and genres.

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GTL: In what ways has academia shaped your writing?

AK: I’ve always loved school and I’m a good “classroom learner,” so I believe that “academia” in one way or another has shaped my writing since I first started showing my poetry to my beloved sixth grade English teacher, who in turn exposed me to writers as far-ranging as Shakespeare, Langston Hughes, and Kurt Vonnegut. In high school I imitated Keats and Eliot and memorized Chaucer and Dickinson. Then in college I studied journalism and reported for several different newspapers and magazines, which I think influenced how I write dialogue and how I begin pieces with a “lead” or play off of that famous inverted pyramid structure. The culture of workshop, in my undergraduate and graduate years, taught me how to work collaboratively and take criticism, and it revealed to me the important distinctions between essential and inessential mystery—terms that I’ve passed on to my own students now, who ended up titling their class journal last fall “Essential Mystery.”

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Teaching at a small liberal arts college now (Regis University), I get to be “at school” all the time, surrounded by artists and scholars from disciplines far different from my own, which constantly stimulates my thinking. Thanks to fascinating conversations with my mathematician colleagues, I’ve been writing about infinity and limits, and thanks to my psychologist colleague, I’ve got a draft about the first human head transplant.

GTL: What in popular culture has inspired your writing?

AK: Pop culture is hugely influential on my writing. For starters, it’s the subject of a lot of my work. For instance, the speaker of my first book, Annotated Glass, is a combination of me and Alice in Wonderland, and I teach a freshman seminar on superheroes at Regis University. My most recent book, Mega-City Redux, is a remix of a 15th century allegory in which the author, with the help of three feminist fairy godmothers, builds a “City of Ladies” where women can find shelter from sexism and misogyny. In my modern-day quest for this city, I’m aided by the heroes I looked up to as a girl: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena Warrior Princess, and Dana Scully from The X-Files.

 

I’ve always loved sci-fi books, movies, and TV, and the influence shows in other projects I’ve written—for instance, my chapbook Alternates is a love story set in parallel universes, and my book Copper Mother imagines what would happen if space aliens came to Earth to visit. I love the imaginative potential and possibility opened up by science fiction, and I love the way, in pop culture in general, complex human problems get explored in urgent, authentic, and often very funny ways.

 

GTL: What is it like to be a creative writer in Anchorage, Alaska, where you were a professor for three years?

AK: Anchorage is an amazing place to be a writer. I am so fortunate to have been able to live and teach there for three years. The landscape is absolutely stunning—the scale of everything makes no sense at all, nor do the steeply fluctuating patterns of lightness and dark, or the absurdity of finding a moose in the front yard of your downtown apartment. I often couldn’t tell whether the effect I felt in any particular situation was due to the sheer novelty of the encounter, or its compelling beauty, or the novelty of its beauty, or the beauty of its novelty.

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Alaskans are rightfully very proud of their state, and the friends my partner and I made up north were always so generous about showing us how to safely navigate an ice cave or how to cook salmon the best way. There’s a wonderful culture that encourages being outdoors as much as possible camping, hiking, skiing, or just sitting by a fire. The biggest influence of Alaska on my writing is simply the time I spent outside looking at mind-bogglingly beautiful things.

GTL: When I Google your name, the second site that comes up is titled “Everyone Is Gay.” I’d love to know more about your role/participation with this site!

AK: Everyone Is Gay is a wonderful organization that offers advice and advocacy to LGBTQIA youth and their families. For three years, I served as a writer and editor for My Kid Is Gay, a project of Everyone Is Gay that answers questions and provides advice and resources to parents, educators, and caregivers of LGBTQIA youth. I still write for the site—here’s my most recent piece of advice in response to a parent worrying about their son and “PDA.”

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GTL: What was it like to start Gazing Grain Press, “an inclusive feminist press”?

AK: During my MFA studies at George Mason University, I served as the poetry editor of So to Speak, a feminist literary magazine. After graduation in 2012, two friends (Siwar Masannat and M. Mack, also So to Speak editors) and I decided we wanted to keep up the work of feminist editing, and we felt that the literary landscape was in need of a press explicitly inclusive of all genders and sexualities. With the support of George Mason’s MFA program and the Fall for the Book literary festival, we founded Gazing Grain (named after a line in Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for death”) and have since published eight incredible chapbooks. Our editorial circle has expanded to include an amazing team of Mason MFA alumni, and we’re open for contest submissions every spring/summer!

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It’s Happening! Contests are open at Gazing Grain Press!
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23 comments

      • Not hugely, though I played a few for a while – the Anno series and the Age of Empires stuff mainly. I still play computer games, but the small ones you get online rather than big graphics-heavy ones. Never got into Super Mario though…

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Gazing Grain sounds amazing and I’ll be checking it out for sure!
    Hope your retreat is going well and that you’re getting a lot of writing done 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me, too. I have family there who would take me in, but man, it’s super far! I know in my Aunt Lou’s town, the year I graduated from high school, they only had 8 graduates! Imagine prom! Alaska is the place that shaped Bob Ross, too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s so cool that you have family there! Eight graduates is tiny, but I guess it’s pretty sparsely populated. I imagine they’d all know each other pretty well. A few of my aunties and uncles have done those scenic cruises they run up there and their photos were spectacular. It looks like such an incredible landscape!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I really love reading your interviews! These are some amazing questions (I am totally stealing that Google-Search question for the future). How did you end up finding Alyse Korr and her Super Mario Bros 3 novel? I’m definitely interested in reading this myself– SMB3 was the video game which turned me into a proper gamer. I have a lot of nostalgia with that game.

    Alyse Korr: Thank you so much for participating in this interview! It’s obvious that you have exposure to many genres and formats of writing. How did you find all of these? For example, I had never heard of a chapbook before this interview (don’t worry, I Googled it)! I am particularly interested in learning about alternative formats for ingesting writing. How would you recommend I learn more about this?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jackie! I have some standard questions that I ask to get the writer to talk more generally instead of about one particular book, which my readers and I may or may not have read. I find that some authors have blogs, and those can be really rich places for interviews. Some writers get very silly on their blogs 🙂 I emailed Alyse to let her know you asked a question, so she may get back to you. I might be able to help, though. I first heard about chapbooks when I was studying black lit from Detroit. Publishers were pretty much all white, so black writers would get together and print stories and poems on little pamphlets called “broadsides.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because I’m reading about one of the lead distributors of broadsides in my #20BooksofSummer challenge. The book is called Wrestling with the Muse. Later, I learned that people are heading for MFA (master of fine arts) creative writing programs in record numbers. This has created way more people who want to publish than what the big 5 in New York want to publisher. The big 5 refers to the fact that the majority of books you will ever read in the U.S. come from 5 main publishers, all located in New York City. They really shape what Americans read. Many of us are not comfortable with that, so small presses started popping up. Typically, it’s one person and his/her friends doing it as a labor of love. Some chapbooks are literally just paper stapled together like a book. Some people get together with artists and hand-bind books and decorate them. Some publishers that have some financial backing are now actually making very small books. A chapbook is a great way for an author who doesn’t want to fit in with the standard writing we see coming out of NYC to get a foot in the door with a “big small press.” Those are publishers with money, but not the same huge level of success as the big 5. Think places like Coffee House Press, or Fiction Collective 2.

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    • From Alyse Knorr:
      Thanks so much for your question, Jackie! Always great to “meet” another fan of Super Mario Bros. 3–it’s really such a great game. : ) As for your question, I have found the website Duotrope to be very useful in learning more about the different outlets for writing. I usually learn a lot from every reading I go to, as well! A reading is a fantastic chance to get exposed to lots of different types of work and even ask the authors about their experiences working in those forms. Best of luck! Thanks for writing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I honestly do a terrible job keeping up with the bookish events in my town– mostly because they use marketing outlets I don’t frequent. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for events featuring readings now. That’s a great idea. And thanks for introducing me to Duotroupe! It looks like I have a lot to learn still. But, don’t we all? 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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