The Who, What, When, Where and Why with Elisa Albert
By Jade Craddock
Elisa Albert’s novel, After Birth, has been making waves this year, and she’s kindly taken time out to answer out who, what, when, where and why. So without further ado, welcome Elisa.♥
Who has been the most important person in your writing journey?
My dad wrote me a letter when I was seventeen, telling me he was proud of me, he loved me, and felt certain that I would put my gift with words to use as a writer of some sort. I was something of a fuckup, so his faith in me was a bit startling. But it stuck with me, and allowed me to begin to have some faith in myself. I think we all need recognition and encouragement from people we respect and admire. I’ve been fortunate in that regard; many teachers have given me that eye contact, that nod, that yes, I see you, keep going.
What motivates you to write?
An earnest desire to give voice to difficult or unpopular perspectives, for starters. I like Tolstoy’s idea that a writer is only responsible for the “correct presentation” of a problem, not its solution. Things gnaw at me: cultural paradigms, human nature, relationship strife. Writing is a kind of grappling. But then, Einstein said no problem can be solved by the same level of consciousness that created it… if writing is an attempt to get to the heart of what’s wrong; reading might be how we are compelled to try and resolve things.
When did you first start writing?
I wrote forbidden notes in grade school, angsty notebooks in junior high, letters to summer camp girlfriends, hyperbolic notebooks in high school, and terrible school essays. At university I started to write short stories, in graduate school I obsessed over stories, and thereafter made the leap to novels, though currently I find myself pining for short stories again. I still always have a notebook with me. The letters to girlfriends are now emails and texts. I adore language, the more startling, humorous, and perverse the better. I can’t remember a time when that wasn’t the case.
Where do you write?
Sometimes in a little office on the top floor of my house, sometimes in the coffee shop across the street, sometimes at the coffee table in my sitting room, sometimes on trains, sometimes on planes… I try to stay loose and create the ideal conditions wherever I happen to be. Longhand is good for daydreaming; typing is useful for getting the job done. A couple times a year, when I’m feeling estranged from the process and subsumed by family life, I borrow a friend’s house in the woods. Sitting alone in silence for a few days is fantastic. It’s all about making room for the work to flow.
Why did you write this book?
Because it was begging, relentlessly, to be written.
Elisa Albert is the author of After Birth, The Book of Dahlia (2008), How This Night is Different (2006), and the editor of the anthology Freud’s Blind Spot (2010). Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Tin House, The New York Times, Post Road, The Guardian, Gulf Coast, Commentary, Salon, Tablet, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Believer, The Rumpus, Time Magazine, on NPR, and in many anthologies.