Interview with Rita Bullwinkel: Ice Worlds, Undead Voices, and Allusions to the Complete Other
Rita Bullwinkel originates from the San Francisco Bay Area and currently resides in Brooklyn. She has also planted her feet in Providence, Rhode Island and Delhi, India, where she worked at the Indian National Gallery of Modern Art. She is the recipient of several grants from Brown University and a fellowship from Vanderbilt. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in NOON, Heavy Feather Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Two Serious Ladies, and Gigantic Worlds: An Anthology of Science Flash Fiction.
How would you, in a sentence or two, describe your writing?
A perilous attempt to swim the English Channel. An elective surgery in which the doctor may have accidentally left the scalpel inside the patient.
What sorts of voices are most compelling to you?
Those of ghosts or other kinds of undead.
What do you look for in the stories you read? How would you say your reading breaks down, if you had a pie chart, in terms of poetry, short stories, longer prose, and nonfiction?
I am an obsessive reader of many different formats in which words appear. I usually find new words to read through words I have previously read. Below is an approximate graph of my word consumption.
What is something people often misunderstand about your writing?
I am not sure if I believe writing can be misunderstood. I think when one writes something they make an object, and that when that object is published, separated from the existence of its maker, it is given away into the abyss of collective consciousness where the minds of the world can do what they like with it.
I like to learn about the little things writers are obsessed with. For instance, when I try to think about my obsessions, I usually think of various passwords for things I’ve used over the years. Dung beetles, people who don’t sleep or sleep very little, rattlesnakes, and hunting are mine. What are yours?
I am fascinated by illness, how your body can rebel against you. It is quite baffling, to me, that something like your blood can kill you, revolting from within. The relationship one has to their body is bizarre, and that bizarreness is perhaps most clearly exposed during times of sickness. I think this is why I am interested in illness. It becomes a clarifying agent.
I have also, recently, become increasingly interested in ice worlds. Anna Kavan’s Ice, Tarjei Vesaas’ Ice Palace, Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Kobo Abe’s Inter Ice Age 4, Vladamir Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy. In all of these books, ice functions not only as setting, but as a divine being that has to be reasoned with, some type of silent deity that is both threatening and full of comfort. I have found that, as a reader, when I am in an ice world I am more easily sedated into the narrative. I am not sure why that is. I am trying to find out.
You’re an assistant fiction editor at the Brooklyn Rail and an Associate Editor at NOON. Which literary magazines do you read?
There are so many fantastic lit mags out there. People truly are fighting the good fight. I read The Black Warrior Review, The American Reader, and Two Serious Ladiesperhaps most religiously. Uzoamaka Maduka has shaped The American Reader into something spectacular, with Ben Marcus and Ben Lerner both in her arsenal of editors. Amelia Gray’s “On The Moment of Conception,” published in the December 2012 issue, is one of the best stories I have read in eons. The Ramon Isao and Joe Wenderoth pieces were also fantastic.
Which visual artists have you been into recently? Does art tie into your writing at all?
Many of my stories are birthed out of images, although these images are usually my own, things that come to me late at night or very early in the morning. I find great pleasure in the visual and that is, perhaps, why images have such power over me. I have recently fallen in love with Clyfford Still’s work. His violent, invasive paintings are captivating. I wish I could live with one of his marvelous canvases.
I have also been taken by the work of Linnéa Gad, a Swedish artist who lives and works here in New York. I saw one of her exhibitions last October and was shaken by her careful consideration of the visual. The exhibition mainly featured highly detailed paintings of interiors, with some parts of the image occasionally rubbed out, creating a type of vacancy. The cold, simple, exacting of these environments was stunning. I love the way in which her paintings hold back and allow viewers to insert elements of their own imagination. Each of her paintings is a window into some whole, other complete world. I think this skill of creating the allusion of a complete, original other, is the most valuable thing any artist, writer or painter, can posses.
What are you reading/listening to/watching right now?
I have been enchanted by Ethiopian jazz, as of late. I have also been enamored by Darkside, the Dave Harrington-Nicolas Jaar duo. I saw them live in Istanbul last May and then again at Terminal 5 here in New York in January. Both were two of the best live shows I have ever seen. Their Istanbul show was on the roof of one of the tallest buildings in Taksim, the backdrop to the stage an open-air view of both continents and the Hagia Sofia. It was insane, all these Turks waiting for the beat to drop and the light turning.
As for words, I have a series of sizable stacks of books that encircle my bed. I have to step over them in order to enter and exit my sleeping premises. The stack closest to where I lay my head when I sleep contains an Addis Abba travel guide, Rikki Ducornet’s Netsuke, the Guru Granth Sahib, and Joanna Ruocco’s The Mothering Coven.
And movies. I don’t think I have yet fully recovered from the splendor of Tran Anh Hung’s Norwegian Wood.
If your writing were an animal, what kind of animal would it be and why?
A three legged dog. Deformed, but surprisingly mobile.