“America Never Lets You Get Comfortable in Your Own Skin,” a Conversation with Paisley Rekdal on Her Book, Appropriate—curated by Victoria Chang

Victoria Chang: How and why did you decide to write your book, Appropriate (Norton, 2021)? This book felt very much so like a service to all teachers, students, and frankly everyone in this moment in history. I’m so thankful that someone as brilliant as you has written something to help me navigate and think through some of my own experiences and some of these larger cultural situations you mention in the book.

Paisley Rekdal: This is going to give people the wrong impression about how publishing works, but I was approached to write the book after an editor saw a post on Facebook I’d written about Anders Carlson-Wee’s poem “How To.” My post took the question that eventually became the frame of Appropriate and applied it to Carlson-Wee’s poem: what are the desires about race and identity on display in this appropriative work? If we erase the dialectical frame of the poem, what message are we left with? The editor who saw this post sent me a message asking if I’d be interested in writing a book about cultural appropriation and literature; my first reaction was to say “No.” But the more I thought about my own time in the classroom and in publishing, the more I realized I myself had too many questions about appropriation, cultural appropriation and race to ignore the opportunity to think through these issues at length. The fact is, no writer, teacher, reader, or editor has an easy answer to these questions, and I wouldn’t trust one who did.   

VC: That’s a great story—I’ve heard that sometimes editors and/or agents contact people after they’ve read something on social media so it’s great to hear that happened here too. Did you have any fears or reservations before writing this book or during? How about post-publication? Do you think there will be any criticism of the book and if so, what? I ask this question because you are probably the most fearless person I know.

PR: I’m not fearless at all—I’m probably one of the more conservative and timid people you’ll meet when it comes to public life. And if there’s any book that you don’t want to get wrong in this socially mediated world, it’s a book about cultural appropriation. For these reasons, I spent most of my time writing the first draft bathed in cold flop sweat, but then when I sat down to analyze the poems, stories and novels I’d chosen, my training as a teacher kicked in. If I trust anything in myself, it’s my ability to close-read a text. So I’m not afraid about critical reactions to my criticism itself. 

I suspect most of the criticism will come from certain definitions or ideas I present about how we imagine racial identity, ideas and definitions which themselves are constantly changing. I also suspect people will reject out of hand that there is anything positive about appropriation at all, and that we need ways to critically rehabilitate problematic authors or texts from the past. I think a lot of people are happier right now consigning certain books and authors to the “Do Not Read” pile, in favor of elevating younger writers of color. I understand and am sympathetic to that argument, but eventually our writers of today too will seem out of fashion. If we want to spend our lives as readers and writers, we have to be flexible enough to converse with texts from a wide variety of cultures, times and positions. We don’t have to agree with everything we read—frankly, we really shouldn’t—but we have to believe we are intellectually, ethically, and critically nimble enough to tackle texts that challenge our core perception of ourselves.

VC: My own “Do Not Read” or “Do Not Teach” pile keeps growing too. I’d like to believe that we can have nuanced conversations about problematic texts and I think your book will help us think through and decide for ourselves how we want to approach teaching and reading. 

The letter form in Appropriate felt intentional. The form seems like a way to enter difficult, potentially charged material because the form seems to engender conversation, to take a query-based approach. It seems like a way to turn around questions. The book felt like an onion (sorry, cliche) where layers were peeled, re-peeled, while the onion kept on turning and turning. Did this mimic your own thinking process while writing? Was this structure intentional from the beginning? Do you outline? Basically, how do you write in general?

PR: I began the book thinking it would be a single letter to a younger writer, but the material forced me to break it into a series of letters organized around issues and themes. I wanted the epistolary form because the debate around cultural appropriation takes us into some theoretically complex territory, and to make this book readable to a variety of writers, I had to imagine a very particular audience. Someone smart, interested, creatively inclined, but decidedly not an expert. The letter form was a way of reigning in my didactic tendencies. It also, as you note, allowed for me to backtrack, to argue with myself, to admit that I might like something I’m not supposed to like, or to admit I don’t feel comfortable making certain types of arguments. It allowed me to be a bit more personal, and considering that I’m a writer of color, the question of appropriation really IS personal for me, on a variety of levels. There’s no point in trying to pretend I don’t have feelings here, and that those feelings influence my thinking.

But the question of form speaks to how I write in general. I’m always in pursuit of a form—once I have an idea (really, more of a feeling than a subject), I’m always trying to find a way to shape the material of that feeling. In my book Nightingale, for example, I wrote the title piece because I had written a poem, “Philomela,” that I was fundamentally dissatisfied with. I had to figure out where that dissatisfaction came from. It turns out to be a dissatisfaction with the historical representation of both women and trauma. No poem alone could do that work, but something that moved between a poem and an essay could. Once I figured out the form, I could get at the subject matter and better express the feeling.

VC: That’s really beautiful—“to shape the material of that feeling.” So much about writing for me as well is about shaping the material of that feeling. Related to this, I’m curious about the writing process for this book. How long did this book take? There are some events you refer to that just happened that made me wonder how fast you wrote this book. But then this book seems so thoroughly researched with examples and references to so many books, films, art, etc. that it seems like it took years to write. Also, did you talk to anyone or people while writing? 

PR: I talked to many people while writing this book, and showed a few people drafts. The most meaningful conversations I had were with an Ethnic Studies scholar and a fiction writer. Both kept reminding me that the knee-jerk reactions I had to certain definitions and ideas about writing were, embarrassingly, a little shallow. They kept pushing. If I’d had my own way entirely, I think the book would have gone further back in time and stayed there, but my editor wanted more contemporary examples. With younger readers in mind, this certainly makes sense, and pop culture offers a lot of examples that offer some good theoretical debate. I sold the book in 2017 and wrote it as fast as I could, but really I wrote it over the course of three years. And as soon as I finished it, a whole wave of new racial and ethnic hoaxes appeared: H.G. “Hache” Carrillo, Jessica Krug, and now—depending on how you read her story—Hilaria Baldwin. In reality, because our ideas about social justice, race, and ethnicity are always changing, it makes sense to stay closer to the moment than, say, the 1930s, because it’s too easy to dismiss early 20th or 19th or certainly 18th and 17th century appropriations as fundamentally racist. But a book like American Dirt, as much as I dislike it and find it simplistic as a text, really does offer some complexity around our definitions of appropriation. If the depictions themselves aren’t obviously racist, in what ways is the book itself still appropriative? How can we publish something that is both politically progressive and ethically regressive at once?

VC: Fascinating. It sounds like in some ways, the “case studies” for lack of a better term helped shape the book’s thinking and arguments as you wrote. I’m fascinated by the title, Appropriate, and the possible double meanings of this word as an adjective and also a verb. I’m also intrigued by the subtitle: A Provocation. How did these come to fruition? Any other titles that nearly made it?

PR: It was the only title that I wanted, because of that doubleness. “A Provocation” was important to me as well, since I know the subject matter itself is provocative, and I do want to provoke discussion. I don’t believe readers will agree with everything I say, but that critical disagreement might provoke them towards gaining their own greater insight into how texts function. That, to me, is finally the point of the book: how do we read and why? 

VC: At the end of the day, the book really got me to think harder about my own views and to deconstruct my own thinking and I think that’s one of the lessons. Also related to this, I found it interesting that you use an imaginary student X (who is based on real students and people) to examine and cross-examine your own thinking and points, and/or to hypothetically imagine responses to things you write. Can you talk about how you landed on this choice?

PR: One of my early draft readers said that I couldn’t just write a letter to a person, that person had to be embodied in some meaningful way, to bring out some nuance of tone and to develop me as a character as well. In thinking about a student and writing to that student, I also had to think about the kind of relationship I try to have with my students in real life: one that is respectful, ultimately, challenging but also friendly. When I teach, I tend to see my students as allies. I root for them. I want them to succeed. I often end up liking them very much as people. I don’t see students as antagonists unless they themselves decide they need to see me as an enemy—then, sadly, there’s not much I can do to save that pedagogical relationship. But by thinking of a student, I also had to think about the persona I want to cultivate as a teacher, and that’s what I tried to bring to the page.

VC: I love this—I think that so much of learning happens within these kinds of pedagogical relationships of respect, yet respect doesn’t mean we kowtow to each other’s thinking or beliefs. As a teacher myself, I think about teaching, yes, but also co-making ideas along with the students. This means my own views are constantly evolving. I make mistakes as I go, as we all do and that’s actually what we want in the end. 

Speaking of teachers, your father sounds amazing—literary, intellectual, a reader, and a thinker. I’ve always wanted at least one parent like this (no such luck)! He seems like someone to debate and talk with. How did your father influence you as a writer and thinker? How about your mother? And you’re an only child, right?

PR: I’m an only child, and I’m extremely fortunate to have had two parents who were teachers, but vastly different types of teachers. For several years, my mother taught gifted students at a public elementary school just outside of Seattle. She was, according to the messages I get on social media from her former students, a wildly talented teacher who was much beloved. She didn’t really want to teach me, as her child, but she was pretty crafty about giving me lessons: she used to leave books around the house in places for me to find. She never talked to me about these books, she never asked what I thought about them, she just made sure I would find them. My father, however, had a far more intense relationship with books and my reading. When I was in fifth grade, he gave me a little vocabulary quiz just to see what words I knew and was horrified to find I didn’t seem to know anything. (My father was an adjunct at a couple of different colleges, so his idea of what my vocabulary should be like was probably a little too advanced, frankly.) But he set me a challenge: I would keep lists of all the words I didn’t know and look them up. I’d get a dime for every page of these lists, and I’d get a quarter for every word I found that he didn’t know. It got me in the habit of keeping long vocabulary lists that I’d memorize, and my competitive spirit made me seek out harder books to find words that would stump my dad. I rarely did: I think I managed to get a dollar off him in total from words he didn’t know. But I got lots of money from the vocabulary lists.

But the book is dedicated to my father because we have had, at times, a tough relationship. My father’s taste in books run counter to mine, and his ideas and perceptions of history are almost 180 degrees different. He is white, and though I might be white-passing to some, I have an entirely different relationship to the world than he does and did. Over our lives together, we fought viciously about politics, American history, literature. I still don’t agree with him about many things, but I deeply respect his knowledge and his curiosity. I don’t think I could have been the writer I am without my parents, and if I ever appear fearless in an intellectual fight, it’s entirely down to my history with my father. 

VC: These are great stories and so illuminating. I see you as a really good debater and someone who has views and can defend them and also articulate your thinking. Now I see where you get that from, along with your stellar vocabulary!

In the book, you write: “For me, as a writer, one of the most dangerous side effects of empathetic desire when it appropriates another culture’s trauma is that it conflates the minoritized community with its marginalization and pain.” You continue: “This system of literary power requires that writers, in trying to dismantle the system are implicitly put in a position of performing their own disempowerment for an audience eager to understand it, thus this disenfranchisement becomes the primary trope that both the publishing world and the writer of color can agree frames the writer of color’s experience as different from the white writer’s.” I find this so compelling and so nuanced. Can you talk more about this?

PR: This argument, to me, has two serious side effects. The first is, of course, that the publishing world, and white audiences, come to fetishize narratives of racist trauma written by BIPOC writers, largely because that is one of the few representations of BIPOC lives that *are* shown on our screens, published in our books, disseminated in our poetry anthologies. It’s the problem of having the single story of BIPOC people, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said. It risks essentializing non-white identity as something that is inherently, perhaps only, tragic and painful in a majority-white system. It is true that BIPOC people suffer, and also die, in a majority-white system. But it is also true that BIPOC people invent, feel joy, have families, live full and meaningful lives. But when white writers appropriate POC pain, they reify that traumatic essentialism I wrote about, and it encourages writers of color to correct the record by writing their *own* narratives around racism—which, as you can see, then get cycled back into the white-controlled publishing system and promoted in ways that, again, fetishize and commodify BIPOC pain.

The other risk, however, is that certain white writers AND writers of color might, well, take advantage of that fetishization. The writer Jason England wrote about this in a recent, fabulous essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education about Jessica Krug and the academy. Essentially, why could she “pass” to anyone as Black or Latinx when her performance itself was so cruddy? England’s argument was that, in this commodification of pain, certain scholars and writers of color have begun to pander to white audiences looking for exactly that performance. Again, when we have so few stories and representations of POC out in the mainstream, our definition of what an “authentic” non-white identity looks like is extremely limited, which allows a lot of white and BIPOC people to perform to an expectation the market has already set. Add to this a shrinking job market, limited artistic support, and calls for diversity at every level of publishing and teaching, and you suddenly have the perfect opportunity for fakes and panderers to take root. England says, rather devastatingly, that he has never before seen so much mediocre scholarship around race be so wildly lauded, and his argument is that this is bound to happen in the racist and market-driven system that is academia and publishing.

VC: You’ve just said so many interesting things and the word “cycle” keeps coming into my mind, cycle of fetishization and commodification. And yes, the “racist and market-driven system that is academia and publishing” really stings but is so true.

Throughout the book, you pose questions for this imaginary student, X. A few examples are: “Whose desire animates your text?” and “Does this desire expand or contract historical memory, and in what ways does this desire encourage you to investigate your own racial meaning?” Implicit in the epistolary form (I have been thinking about this a lot since my forthcoming book is also in this form) is the inability of the subject of the letter to write back. Do these questions counter that notion?

PR: Those questions are there for the readers to answer for themselves. They can’t answer back in *my* text, because it’s already published, but I do believe they would answer back in classroom conversation or on text threads!

VC: You cover a lot of material in this book—such as the Anders Carlson-Wee poem, “How-To”, Jeanine Cummins’s American Dirt, Tony Hoagland’s “The Change” and so many more examples from Hemingway to Peter Ho Davies. Was there one or more situation/example that you really struggled to think through? And if so, how and why?

PR: The hardest thing was to articulate exactly why something worked, not what went wrong. So for me, the hardest text to write about was Asymmetry, which I loved. But why did it work? It took a lot of parsing of the book as a whole—its forms and repetitions—to realize that the issue wasn’t one of characterization, but one of, well, symmetry and asymmetry. 

VC: Well yes, it’s easy to make blanket statements of dismissal! I particularly loved your discussion of American Dirt and the counterexample of Lisa Halliday’s novel that you just mentioned, Asymmetry. What role do counterexamples or perhaps exemplars play in your book?

PR: I think there were a lot of accidental pairings, and they accrue over the course of the book. For American Dirt, there is Asymmetry. For “The Change” there is Ai and, more importantly, “Skinhead.” For Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, there is Chang Rae Lee’s Native Speaker. Seeing little differences for me often elucidate larger questions about why something works and something doesn’t. When I teach, I bring in—when I can—rough drafts of the finished poems that students read so that students can see the decisions the author made and, having read the first drafts carefully, why those decisions in particular were made. There’s something absurd about reading nothing but great literature and hoping to become a great, or even good writer in response. Writing is a process of failure, and nothing is a more productive teacher than failing. In seeing something that fails, or isn’t quite as good as something else, you see that textual choices have productive consequences—you can achieve the affects you want, you don’t just stumble into them, which is what a lifetime of reading nothing but successes might suggest.

VC: Right. We often teach “finished” works in class, yet when we workshop, they are all works in progress. We don’t often go back and then talk about choices or revisions that a writer has made, yet those revisions are where a lot of the learning happens. 

I also love how you tie cultural appropriation to money. You write: “Because by taking on the stories of another group and using these stories as the basis for work you sell as your own, X, you profit from the labor of another person or group. By making a name off this work you’ve profited from, you further your own reputation at the cost of shrinking that of the original artists...” Your discussions made me think how flawed the entire literary and publishing system is, which we’ve already touched on. What are some changes you would like to see happen?

PR: I think it is clear to everyone who writes and publishes now that we are at a powerful inflection point, and on my most cynical days I suspect that a lot of people in power are quietly asking themselves how much we will all be satisfied by cosmetic changes. Because to me, some of the things that seem to be the most celebration-worthy are also ultimately cosmetic. Take any fellowship or writing award in the US now, and you’ll see an admirably diverse list of rewarded talent. 

Now look at the boards and heads of the organizations that hand out those prizes, and you’ll pretty much see the same faces you saw about 20 or 30 years ago. Add to this the fact that the writing and publishing world has limited opportunities, that we do not offer writers of color the same kinds of publishing advances as white writers, that we have NOT grown the fellowship pool while the writing world itself via MFA and PhD programs has exploded, and we have a perfect opportunity for tokenism. By rewarding this one particular writer of color, or this particular group of writers of color, how do they get to stand in for systemic change overall? 

When one BIPOC writer gets lavishly rewarded while the other members of her community continue to languish in obscurity, can we really say we are advancing that group’s interests in fundamental ways? The market as it stands now pits writers of color against each other, because it’s about money, and we can monetize the stories and experiences of certain writers if they hew to the expectation of their own “authentic” narratives. Better yet, as American Dirt showed us, the market prefers a white writer who writes about race in ways that thrill but don’t politically implicate the audience, thus selling thousands of books to indifferent readers. If we allow the market alone—or, really, fantasies of the book market—to dictate who gets published and supported, we will increasingly end up with these mediocre and problematic books. That’s why we need more editors and presidents and board members and publicists and reviewers of color. That’s why we need more writer-led publishing houses. That’s why a single mega-publishing house is disastrous for us as writers. That’s why—and I know this is biting a hand that personally fed me—the lead editors of anthologies like Best American have to change. Rewarding a few writers of color each year as a kind of social reparations, as Viet Thanh Nguyen named it in a recent New York Times op-ed, is simply shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. 

VC: You’ve just said so much here! I am especially troubled by how tokenism pits BIPOC writers against each other. We could talk for an entire day on all of these issues. Related to this, one of the feelings I had while reading was that, wow, this is all so hard, writing itself, but writing today. There are so many things to consider, to reconsider. But ultimately, this book is about hope. You write: “Frankly, I don’t believe that an artist writing outside her subject position can only write into racist stereotypes. Racist stereotypes are pervasive…but that doesn’t mean we can’t train ourselves to recognize and combat them.” I love this idea of train and also “practice” you write about later in the book. Was this book ultimately written out of this hope and about the possibility of seeing others, seeing others differently, and listening/hearing others?

PR: Yes. This is my shortest answer!

VC: Ha! Your thinking process is always such a gift—I appreciate your considered responses! I suppose in the spirit of consideration, there are many moments in the book where you critique your own choices/decisions. You open the book with your former admiration for a problematic William Meredith poem. Towards the latter half of the book, you do this again by critiquing one of your own former books, Intimate. Can you talk about the choice to turn the camera on the self as part of the framing of this book? Or said another way, what is the role of “revision” of one’s thinking in the process of change and growth?

PR: While I was writing this book, we had a white visiting writer come to my university and admit that she probably shouldn’t have published one of her first books, which is written in the voice of a Chinese student. Knowing her, I doubt there’s anything about the character that actively and knowingly deploys racist metaphors. But the fact she was willing to think about her own publishing life and career, to ask whether all of her books were really worth it in the end was a powerful moment for me. She struck me as thoughtful, human, and unafraid to see herself as wrong. I think it’s important to acknowledge if you get something wrong. And in the end, because our ideas about right and wrong do change, we all are going to be wrong at some point. I make mistakes all the time, and oftentimes it’s because I’m not paying appropriate attention to the context in which I make my remarks or publish my poems or have my little say in public. We all do this, and I think, again, it’s important to remind ourselves and each other that these failures don’t have to be career-destroying to be important, both to the writer who failed and to the audience that recognizes the failure. We don’t seem to be at that particular moment in time, however; I think people like and take comfort in the moral rush of judgement because it suggests there are discernible “guard rails” that can keep us all protected and on the right path. The reality is, however, that those guard rails aren’t as clearly delineated as we’d like. We all have to stumble off into the fog of our careers and future, and I think we’re all hoping we make the right choices.

VC: Yes, I hear you. I’ve made my own fair share of mistakes and continue to do so and I can only hope that I give out the generosity that I myself would want towards my learning experience. Since you wrote this book, there have been many other things that you could have written about/explored such as the Michael Dickman poem in Poetry Magazine as just one example. I’m sure there are more. Would you ever consider updating this book or exploring your ideas further? Or are you so done with this book?

PR: So. Done.

VC: I can see why, yet I am hopeful you and others will continue to help the rest of us think through these difficult issues. Towards the end of the book, in the context of talking about Tony Hoagland’s poem, “The Change,” you write something that I could relate to: “…taking with it the fear drilled into me as a student that writing about my identity would be viewed as anti-intellectual or sentimentally self-serving. Gone the self-hatred absorbed from years of subtle snubbing in workshops and at conferences.” For me, I didn’t even think about a writing life because I didn’t think people would be interested in anything someone who looked like me had to say. It’s hard to believe how far we have come, yet it feels like we have so far still to go. I think this book that you wrote is a testament to how the “needle” to use your word, has moved, yet in many ways it hasn’t. You write about that exhaustion in your book too. What’s your relationship like now with your own writing? Do you sometimes feel like you have to talk about race/write about race, which is an odd reversal of the past.

PR: I do feel increasingly like I need to write about race, which really is—as you say—an odd reversal of the past. I remember a lot of condescension when my first book of essays about biracial identity came out—21 years ago now. Like it was some statistical quirk and not “real” literature, because real literature never considers race. I don’t particularly adore that collection now myself, because I was 25 when I wrote it, but I do find it bemusing to hear the same people who derided this book now gushing about how important it is to read the work of writers of color. On my more cynical days, I wonder just how long this particular enthusiasm is going to last. 

The frustrating and maybe wonderful thing is that I’ll be considering and reconsidering issues of race forever, because America never lets you get comfortable in your own skin. For a long while, I saw this only as a burden. Now I choose to see it also as an opportunity, since I do believe there is a great benefit of seeing what others refuse to or fear to see. I think that’s the heart of metaphor—connecting narratives and images that wouldn’t logically be connected—and being forced to see the world doubly, even triply, I think has helped me as a writer. 

One last thing I’ll say about race and writing: I think, again, people have a narrow idea of what constitutes an “authentic” narrative about race, even what constitutes a narrative about race. Is writing about race a text that acknowledges race as its subject? Can a text have a gaze that is raced? Morrison argued that it could, and I think we have started to think more about how the white gaze is implicit in literature. But that would also mean that there is a Black gaze in literature too, and an Asian gaze, and an Indigenous one, and that there may be forms of writing that are not objectively about race but are also profoundly influenced by race through particular formal inventions, points of view, framing devices, patterns of metaphor. I’ve been invited to speak on panels about biracial identity and have been asked to read my “biracial poems.” I know what the organizers of these panels mean, but I also know the request is absurd. I don’t write certain poems with one half of my brain and body: I write my poems with my whole self. There are no “biracial poems” I’ve written—they are all “biracial.” What you want me to do is read the poem that speaks to what you assume the biracial person has experienced. I have those poems, but then what are you as a reader to do with a book like Nightingale, that has not a single poem in it that explores my biracial identity in that particular way? Are these not biracial? Is Ovid not my intended inheritance? I reject all of that. Frankly, I’m sick of it.

VC: I think so much about gaze in the actual craft of writing. Sometimes people will say about my writing, how x or y it is and I often think, how white their own gaze is—that everything we read and have read is through that gaze so everything else feels so different. 

I also find what you write about how maybe nearly all texts can be “de-authored and de-cultured” over time fascinating, that appropriation is a part of our culture, that there’s a possibility that certain kinds of appropriation might lead to a shared sense of authorship or even possibly gains. Again, there’s nuance in your argument here. What I feel you are ultimately arguing for is a pushback against a one-size-fits-all, easy kind of binary thinking that can happen particularly today. What I feel like you are making a case for is stepping back and thinking. Do you have thoughts on this?

PR: I think appropriation is less a question of a uniform policy and more a case-by-case opportunity for discussion. For every bad appropriation, there’s a good one. Literature and art can’t be satisfactorily divided into “good” or “bad,” which are categories that I find dishonest. Books can do progressive and regressive things at the same time, and sometimes when we lose one type of cultural or authorial control, we gain something else. We are appropriating things from other people, artists and cultures all the time. The ubiquity of the practice doesn’t make it right, but it also doesn’t mean that the practice itself is solely negative and destructive. I’m hoping people take more time to consider each text, each appropriation, each hoax on its own. Lots of things seem the same, but the more closely you examine them, you find out how different they actually are.

VC: On that note of nuance and multitudes, if you weren’t a professor and writer, what other job(s) do you think you would be doing?

PR: Radio personality?

VC: I can totally see (and hear) that. You are a person of many talents! And finally, that cliched question: what are you working on now? Or perhaps for you, what are all the things you are working on now? I’m also curious to know what genre(s) (the idea of genres are limiting, of course) do you love most since you write so many things?

PR: Before I finish, I just want to say thank you for your great questions and for taking the time to ask them: this was an incredibly thoughtful interview, and I went on at much greater length than I should have because they were so good!

As for my writing now, I’m working on book of poems and a website about the transcontinental railroad, and also a book of critical essays on poetry and war. I suspect I will never finish either of these projects.

VC: Thank you! The pleasure truly was all mine. I look forward to sharing our rich and varied conversation with others.