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10 Questions for Hilary Plum

At the university where I worked part-time the most it would cost $700 per month for just my health insurance, much more for my family. This university owned like a quarter of the city. Maybe you could get your BA in landlording. Trump is one of their best-known alums. In those years the university paid Joe Biden about $900,000 to show up about twelve times. In the west of the city sometimes you'd spot a new outcrop of condos, gated in, little private bus waiting with the clean logo of the hospital that belonged to the university, don't worry, it said, to be in the city you don't have to be in the city.
—from "Philly," Volume 63, Issue 3 (Fall 2022)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
In my twenties I’m pretty sure I wrote a novel about an actor who was concerned about climate change, who was basically Leonardo DiCaprio, and what he was reading. Just like, his thoughts about books. All this took place in Berlin, why? Generously, at some point a press expressed a touch of interest in this manuscript and I realized . . . no. 

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Virginia Woolf’s syntactically acute and deeply felt modernism were very moving to me as soon as I encountered them, as was Hermione Lee’s gorgeous biography of Woolf. Then, later, Beckett was there too, the funniest. I was fortunate to work with the extraordinary writers and mentors Noy Holland and Pam Thompson early in my writing career. In general I’ve certainly been influenced by some post–Gordon Lish “precisionist” or “minimalist” dynamics in US fiction. Lately I’ve been interested less in intensifying precision and more in realizing wildness—though with the immediate discovery that the pressure of precision is wild, and wildness involves a new intensity of control. In my most recent writing I’ve been excessively influenced by Peaches’s album The Teaches of Peaches.

What other professions have you worked in?
I’ve worked at Dairy Queen, as a third-generation lifeguard, a second-generation adjunct, as an editor in independent and academic publishing, as a lecturer, now as a tenure-track professor. Overall, my relationship to language has been the main source or site of my professionalization. My 2022 book Hole Studies discusses this—jobs, cultural work, writing and/as work, and academic labor issues—in depth, so I won’t repeat all that but I’ll add that I think everyone should write and share the history of their working life. These hard implicating proud humbled shameful infuriating inspiring generous accounts are the truths we need for our solidarity.

What did you want to be when you were young?
I always wanted to be a writer, I’m afraid. I’ve been a very daydreamy child and adult.

What inspired you to write this piece?
This piece was written originally for a panel at the 2022 AWP Conference on prose from/of Philadelphia, with the fantastic writers Caren Beilin, Emily Abendroth, Joseph Earl Thomas, and Marc Anthony Richardson. It overlaps a smidge with my latest essay collection, mentioned above. Philadelphia is a very vital city for prose. New York may be over. You may discover that a lot of today’s most distinctive writers—people who really have their own voice and edge—have spent time in Philadelphia. I don’t know what it is. I only lived there four years. I loved it but, for me, there were not enough jobs.  

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I only listen to music if I’m working for money. For my own work I need silence, unless I’m talking to myself.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
It takes a lot of pacing and fidgeting and coffee to start. I don’t really have any rituals because I don’t want to admit how hard I find it. Wait: while writing I almost always have a heating pad tied to my back. I superstitiously believe this helps me not get a headache (it doesn’t), but anyway it keeps me from getting up and pacing around again.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
Zach Savich (current husband) and Caryl Pagel (colleague, beautiful friend).

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I really always wish I’d gotten farther as an athlete.

What are you working on currently?
I have just finished a draft of a novel that is about the horrifying end of abortion here in the Midwest and is, like much of my work, about forms of protest or activism that may not be “effective” but matter. Now I’m trying to figure out what to write or do with a bunch of experiences in and thoughts about small press publishing, a field I have loved working in, despite its difficulty.

What are you reading right now?
I’m rereading Adania Shibli’s novel Minor Detail (trans. Elisabeth Jaquette), I’m reading a draft of a novel by my friend Youssef Rakha, I’m reading a detective novel by Sujata Massey, and I’m listening to Martin Edwards’s The Life of Crime.

HILARY PLUM (she/her) is the author of several books, including the essay collection Hole Studies, out in 2022 from Fonograf Editions, as well as the novel Strawberry Fields and the work of nonfiction Watchfires. A collection of poetry, Excisions, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in 2023. She teaches fiction, nonfiction, and editing and publishing at Cleveland State University and in the NEOMFA program, and is associate director of the CSU Poetry Center. With Zach Savich she edits the Open Prose Series at Rescue Press.


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