To celebrate the publication of Hilary Plum's novel Strawberry Fields, she and Andrea Lawlor – whose novel Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl Plum edited – share and discuss their work in conversation.
At the heart of Strawberry Fields is the storied figure of the journalist, who despairs of accountability yet must accept its disorienting weight. This is a global fiction; these shapeshifting journalists together demonstrate the ethics of reading and writing “news from elsewhere.” An antidote to the normalization wielded upon us by narrative, Hilary Plum crafts with dizzying invention a recursive disorientation of stories starting over and over again, without conclusion. The fragmentation of these harrowing truths, ripped from the headlines, is a reprieve; at least it’s not really “happening,” like normal fictions do, simulacra at the speed of life, not really “happening,” at least not at the rate of narrativity. Oh, but it is. This fiction jumps through genres, destabilizing players and circumstances: revolutionary Ireland, Iraq in the midst of US invasion, and Pakistan during years of drone warfare, an eating disorder clinic, a farming community in the midst of pesticide poisoning, the plight of a journalist imprisoned in Mexico. Our throughline is the recurring story of a reporter, Alice, and a detective, Modigliani: together they failed to solve a crime that occurred years ago amid the chaos of a hurricane, and we find them now piecing together the stories of five murdered veterans of the war in Iraq. Making up nothing, or everything, all around the globe these horrors go on daily.
Hilary Plum has worked for a number of years as an editor of international literature, history, and politics. She teaches creative writing at Cleveland State University and in the NEOMFA program, and serves as associate director of the CSU Poetry Center, where she organizes the Lighthouse Reading Series. With Zach Savich she edits the Open Prose Series at Rescue Press. Strawberry Fields won the Fence Modern Prize in Prose. Other books include the work of nonfiction Watchfires and the novel They Dragged Them Through the Streets.
Andrea Lawlor’s debut novel offers a speculative history of early ’90s identity politics during the heyday of ACT UP and Queer Nation. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is a riotous, razor-sharp bildungsroman whose hero/ine wends his way through a world gutted by loss, pulsing with music, and opening into an array of intimacy and connections.
It’s 1993 and Paul Polydoris tends bar at the only gay club in a university town thrumming with politics and partying. He studies queer theory, has a dyke best friend, makes zines, and is a flâneur with a rich dating life. But Paul’s also got a secret: he’s a shapeshifter. Oscillating wildly from Riot Grrrl to leather cub, Women’s Studies major to trade, Paul transforms his body at will in a series of adventures that take him from Iowa City to Boystown to Provincetown and finally to San Francisco—a journey through the deep queer archives of struggle and pleasure.
Andrea Lawlor lives in Western Massachusetts and teaches writing at Mount Holyoke College. Lawlor is a fiction editor for Fence and the author of a chapbook, Position Papers.