We are kicking off Monday with fantastic news: join us in welcoming acclaimed writer Lidia Yuknavitch to Riverhead Books! Many of you have fallen in love with Lidia’s writing, whether through her works of thrilling fiction like The Book of Joan, or her powerful memoir The Chronology of Water. You may also know her from her powerful TED talk “The Beauty of Being a Misfit.” We’ll be publishing her next two works of fiction. The first of these books, This Is Not a Flag, a revelatory group portrait of marginalized Americans in personal crisis, will be published in the spring of 2019. The second, an epic novel entitled Thrust, traces the stories of four characters in the 19th and 21st centuries in a fictional chronicle of the creation of a colossal female statue designed as a national symbol, inspired by the story of Frédéric Bartholdi and the Statue of Liberty. This weekend we asked Lidia a few of our most burning questions, and this is what she said:
What’s the best thing about being a misfit?
The best thing about being a misfit is our unstoppable ability to reinvent ourselves from seeming nothingness or rubble. We have the ability to shape-shift, to ever-become. We’ve had to, since we didn’t fit in the first place, or because we get continually ejected, or because we feel alive only at the edges of things. That’s not nothing. People could learn things from us: How to endure, how to come apart and reconstitute in the face of despair. No one has gotten anywhere without falling to pieces along the way … and misfits carry this story in our bodies.
What gives you hope?
Well, when it comes to hope, I’ve stopped looking up. I don’t find it in superheroes or gods, saviors, leaders, or celebrities. What gives me hope happens at ground level—maybe even dirt level. Worms are some of the most hopeful creatures on earth.
What gives me hope is the way people create light even inside brutality. How children survive war and go on. How victims of violence manage to emerge and thrive. What gives me hope is the kind of kinesis created through artistic collaboration. Art gives me hope, as it’s a form of expression that can interrupt and counter the destruction that comes from consumer culture, and the politics of a death-driven culture (anti-planet, anti-existence, anti-love). Love gives me hope—especially a kind of reimagined, radicalized love, one that pulls away from the hubris of the individual and moves toward sustaining the planet and each other and animals and ecosystems. The emerging voices and bodies and art of women, people of color, LGBT people, indigenous people, and so-called “outsiders” (ex-cons, ex-junkies, people with mental health or physical differences, poor people, people outside of economy or academia or most institutions) give me hope—the kind of hope that says maybe, just maybe, the story can finally turn.
What’s your favorite statue?
This question makes me so overly nerdgasm excited I almost can’t answer it. Let me calm down. Okay. It’s a 4-way tie:
The Winged Victory of Samothrace. (I put a lock of my hair at the base of this one.) St. Joan at Nôtre Dame de Paris. (I’ve licked this one.) The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, by Bernini. (I left a tiny poem on this one.) Edvard Eriksen’s The Little Mermaid. (Visiting her—swimming to her—is on my bucket list.) I mean, look at them! Gaaaaaahhhh. There’s one other statue I’m obsessed with, but that’s another story. Ahem.
Who’s a favorite artist of yours who’s not a writer?
Another nerdgasm. Wait … you mean choose one? Joan Mitchell and Louise Bourgeois—although maybe Louise doesn’t count, because she wrote some wonderful little stories to accompany her drawings.
Tell us one amazing thing about swimming.
In water, you go both forward and backward in time, which is to say you leave what we pretend is time and enter something interdimensional, something more like the cosmos. You go back to your breathable amniotic origins, and you go forward toward a weightless recognition with all matter and energy. Maybe it’s like being a star in space. A lifedeath liminality. But maybe I’m just, you know, weird.
What else should we know that we might not?
I sleep with four small stuffed monkeys. Yes, it gets crowded. Tell no one.
Cats or dogs? And why?
Well, let me pre-empt the hate first by saying that cats are the slyest, smartest, wiliest, most hilariously passive aggressive creatures on earth. Okay? But dogs, man. Dogs all the way. Who else do you know that would roll around on their backs and bellies in the grass with you? I mean, maybe Walt Whitman, but who else? No one, that’s who. A dog will follow you out to the middle of the ocean if you bring a stick with you. A dog will stick by you if you’re freezing to death in a Game of Thrones episode. A dog will sleep on your grave if you loved them right in life. Who else would do that? Someday we will figure out how to repay them for what they have given us.