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Professor Kubasta and Her Upcoming Publications

Jackie Drake, Editor and Staff Writer

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I got a chance to sit down with Professor Christina Kubasta and talk about her writing process and her new books coming next month; poetry collection Of Covenants (Whitepoint Press) and the novella Girling (Brain Mill Press). By coincidence, both will be coming out this December, making this an exciting and somewhat stressful time for Marian’s Co-Chair to the Honors Program and full-time member of the English Department. She will also have a novel coming out next year. 

JD: You work quite a bit with the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets; you coordinate the Lake Reading Series at        Thelma, and you are the Assistant Poetry Editor at Brain Mill Press. It’s clear you love poetry, so why is            that? 

CK: One of the things I like about poetry is that you can capture experience in a different way than you can in prose; poetry tends to be suggestive, whereas in prose you’re focused on narrative and capturing a whole story so you usually have to finish the story—if it’s narrative prose, anyway. In poetry you can capture a flash of experience and move on, so it’s left more open-ended both for the writer and the reader. Both in terms of the language you use and the line you use and just how you choose to capture a moment on a page make up writing. The form of poetry allows you to do that differently; in prose, you’re thinking in sentences, you’re thinking in paragraphs and thinking in story. 

JD: How would you describe your writing process? 

CK: It’s different lately since I’ve been writing more prose. I thought “Oh I’ll set poetry aside for a while,” and that doesn’t really happen. For poetry, I’ll just get an idea for a poem—and a poem wants to be written anyway—so I’ll percolate it in my brain for a while. Sometimes I’ll jot down a note to myself so I don’t forget it, or I’ll keep repeating the line or image in my head, often on drives to and from work. I’ll often think on that idea maybe for a week or so. I think about poetry as a form; I have to get whatever that flash is down on the page, then I’ll go back to it and rework it and rethink it in little bursts of energy. When it comes to writing prose or fiction I have to have a long stretch of time and there must be no distractions; I have to really sit down and work through that for several hours at a time. Whereas poetry I can jot something down quickly and know I’ll be able to come back to it, with fiction I need time, I have to tell everyone to be quiet. 

JD: You’ve had several books published before: chapbooks A Lovely Box and &s (both Finishing Line Press) and the poetry collection All Beautiful and Useless (BlazeVOX). How does it feel to be having two new publications coming out next month? 

CK: It’s exciting but it’s a lot of work. I’ve been reading proofs and making sure everything’s alright right now, and in the last two weeks I’ve had to proof both of the books. Also when a book is coming out you send advanced review copies to try and get reviews linked to your book, so that takes some legwork with the press’s help. I am sending them out to journals and editors asking them to review the book, and it makes a lot of email chains. And now I’m trying to set up readings for spring of the new books. 

For one of the proofs I got back, the file was corrupted when the press got it, so all of my poems’ lines and formats were completely wrong. Unfortunately, I think that’s what was sent out to reviewers, so completely redoing it now is a mess. So overall, it’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. It’ll be okay, though. 

JD: So do you have a good support system? 

CK: The publishers in both cases are really wonderful. And the exiting thing about the novella is they asked for an introduction piece to announce the book, for me to write something about the book and why I wrote it. Actually, after hearing and thinking about the Me Too movement, I thought about the characters in my book and how often they experience that, so I actually ended up going back and writing about the characters and how their experiences fit into the Me Too movement. So it connects the book characters and their lives, growing up girl, with the relevant Me Too movement as of way of telling readers, “Here is what we’re talking about right now.” That’ll be coming out this week, and I’m really excited. The other really cool thing about the novella, Girling, is that Brian Mill also accepted original artwork for all of their upcoming novellas. The artwork they picked for Girling is just perfect for the book; it’s exactly how I picture the characters and it was pure serendipity. Brian Mill foregrounds the work of emerging writers and artists to help get their work out there. I’ve even connected with the artist and it’s really cool. 

JD: The books being released next month are the poetry collection Of Covenants (Whitepoint Press) and the novella Girling (Brain Mill Press), which is your debut into fiction. What prompted you to start writing prose? 

CK: In a large part it was my students. I was thinking of the exercises I give students and how I ask them to try something new and think outside of their comfort zone. I decided to engage in it that mindset more deeply than saying I would simply do the exercises with them. Also, there’s a text I teach in Women’s Literature which I taught a couple of years ago, and this writer’s actually coming back to visit; it’s Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell. As I read it, I remember thinking—and I really love her work—I’d like to write like that. My students really responded to her in that class. Some students who had started the class saying “I don’t read, I don’t like literature, I’m just taking this class for a core class,” ended the class saying “Okay, I would read books like this.”  So, I decided if I could write the kind of work that bridges the gap between literature students and students who say they aren’t readers, I’d like to give that a go. 

JD: Can you tell us anything about the novel you have coming out in fall, 2018? 

CK: I just signed the contract, and now I’m waiting for the fully signed contract from the publishers. I don’t want to talk about the details, but I considered how much fiction tells the stories of women and often tells a very certain kind of story with a certain kind of ending, so I wanted to do a couple of things. For one, I wanted to tell stories about the kinds of people I grew up with in my Wisconsin hometown. I think that often small town and midwestern stories are either played for laughs or are really superficial, and especially after the last election I think we’re cast in a particular way. I also think that when it comes to telling stories about women’s desires and relationships that they’re often told in a particular way. So I wanted to have a lot of women characters in the story who had a range of desires and relationships that didn’t fit into conventional norms that we often find in stories. I tried to tell the stories that I often don’t see in fiction. 

JD: In three words, what are the top themes in your work? 

CK: 1) Bodies; 2) Intertextual; 3) Desire 

JD: Who would you currently recommend reading? 

CK: I am reading a fabulous book right now, it’s a new short story collection called Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. It’s a collection about a feminist world, a little too explicit for me to assign it in a class, but it’s so good. There’s one horror story about a world where every woman was born with a ribbon tied onto her somewhere, one on her wrist, one on her ankle, one on her finger, and so on. The story’s main character has a ribbon around her neck. It’s just a story of her life and marriage, all pretty happy, but the husband just really wants to untie the ribbon and she tells him no, the ribbon is one thing that’s hers and he can’t untie it. She says he’s not a bad man, he just wants the one thing he can’t have. Throughout the story, you as the reader are in the husband’s position and want to know what’s with the ribbon. She herself has never untied it and she doesn’t know what it does, either. Isn’t it fascinating? 

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Professor Kubasta and Her Upcoming Publications