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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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!