Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mary Cappello

Mary Cappello is a regular contributor to the world of literary nonfiction and experimental prose. She is the author of Night Bloom: An Italian/American Life (Beacon Press), and most recently, the Los Angeles Times bestselling book-length essay on “awkwardness,” Awkward: A Detour (Bellevue Literary Press). Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration and Extraction in the Age of Chevalier Jackson will appear from The New Press in 2010, and Called Back: My Reply to Cancer, My Return to Life, is coming out with Alyson Books this October.

From a Q & A about Awkward: A Detour:

Can you give some examples of the kind of awkwardness you are talking about?

The book treats everything from ontological discomfort to situational silence. It looks at tactlessness, stuttering, awkward go-betweens, awkward aesthetics, awkward diplomats, to name a few. It looks at the way awkwardness figures in the life and work of artists like Emily Dickinson, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Henry James. It considers the awkwardness that is the result of our desperate attempts to control chaos or our futile attempts to order things when they insist on falling apart. The awkwardness of escaping feeling: you might try to numb yourself, but you’re left with a feeling, and the “feeling” is a feeling of awkwardness. One of my personal favorite sections of the book—because I couldn’t have told in advance that awkwardness would take me to it—deals with precociousness and prodigiousnesss: the awkwardness ascribed to children who know more than their child bodies or child minds are allowed to contain.

In a way, I think there’s something for everyone in this book: I can’t tell you the number of times people have said to me when I say I’ve written a book about awkwardness: “That must be a book about me!” It seems that many people experience themselves as awkward but don’t admit it. Or don’t have a way to proudly claim it. For those people, I’ve manufactured “awkward” t-shirts.

On the other hand, the book isn’t for everyone because it situates awkwardness in ways that I think we don’t typically see it discussed.

I realize my description of the book may make it sound as though it’s an encyclopedic compendium of awkwardness, but it’s really not that. There are a few central themes that become more amplified, more voluble in the course of the book’s orchestration. I think of them as ever more “voluble returns,” as though the book is a vibration, and the circle of each of these themes widens or narrows depending on where it occurs in the book.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about the author and her work at Mary Cappello's website.

Writers Read: Mary Cappello.

--Marshal Zeringue