Guest Post, Frances Lefkowitz on Frances Lefkowitz

franceslefkowitzFrances Lefkowitz is the author of To Have Not, named one of five “Best Memoirs of 2010” by SheKnows.com. It’s the story of growing up poor in San Francisco in the ’70s, going to the Ivy League on scholarship, and discovering the downside of upward mobility. Her stories and articles are published in The Sun, Tin House, Blip, Utne Reader, Good Housekeeping, Whole Living, Health, GlimmerTrain Stories,  and more. She has received honorable mention twice for the Pushcart Prize and once for Best American Essays. Frances now lives, and surfs, in Northern California.

 

Frances

Let’s start with the obvious question. How can you call these things essays? They read more like prose poems or flash fiction.

Frances

I let other people decide what they are, where they should be shelved. I’m not trying to cause trouble or blur borders, but right now my writing is coming out in little blocks of text that tell a story and some of those stories are true and some are made up. The two pieces in this issue, “Mine Sounded Like an Earthquake” and “Thorns” are true stories, which, I guess is another way of saying “essay.” And since they’re about me, we could even call them “micro memoir” or “personal essaylettes” or . . . ?

Frances

Do you ever get accused of being a poet?

Frances

Occasionally, but I always deny it. Recently I read at an event with Ishmael Reed; he approached me afterward and asked if he could publish one of my “poems.” I was honored but confused. Part of the reason I don’t think I qualify as a poet is that I know so little about poetic forms, and the old-fashioned nitpicker in me feels that a real poet should be able to write a cinquain or villanelle—or at least be able to recognize them.

Frances

OK, enough about categories. Let’s talk about self-absorption. As the author of a memoir (To Have Not), numerous personal essays, these new micro-memoirs, and now an interview with yourself, how can you defend against this charge?

Frances

For the record, I would like to point out that at least my fiction is not thinly-veiled autobiography. When I make things up, they’re not about me. Otherwise, my defense is that I see myself as a sort of Everywoman. So it’s not that my hobbies or heartbreaks are more interesting or important than anyone else’s. It’s that they are in many ways representative. I never called my book a memoir (here we go again with categories) until the publisher labeled it so. But I still describe it as not so much about me as about my take on the world. I use myself as a guinea pig, to explore how money, say, or lust, or geology, or striving, or other facts of life play out on a person trying to make it in this world.

Frances

Sounds lofty.

Frances

Nah, it’s just telling stories.

Frances

So you don’t set out to write about a social or psychological issue? In “Thorns,” for example, did you start with the idea to write about how love fades, and how the fight against that fading leads some people to extremes?

Frances

Not at all. I don’t start with an idea at all. I start with the urge to tell a story. Sometimes I don’t even start with that much; I just have a voice that’s demanding to speak, and the story unfolds as I let her speak. Later I can switch brains and see a theme or statement, but at the time I’m just following urgency. But the urgency is there precisely because the feeling or situation is universal and compelling, is much larger than myself.

Frances

So, write the story, then see what it’s about.

Frances

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Frances Lefkowitz

Author, TO HAVE NOT, named one of five "Best Memoirs of 2010" by Sheknows.com.

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5 thoughts on “Guest Post, Frances Lefkowitz on Frances Lefkowitz

  • May 14, 2012 at 7:20 pm
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    Frances, this faux interview is quite funny, quite inventive, quite well done.

    Reply
  • May 15, 2012 at 11:10 am
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    Humor used to out-Aristotle his Poetics? Maybe not that lofty, but damned fascinating. I especially dig the part about the publisher insisting on adding “a memoir”–how typical of the dying publishing industry . . .
    Starting something reminds me to crow, I started the twenty-line piece I wrote today with the discovery of the word “couvade,” called it “Early Rising” and decided it may well be twenty lines too long. That, too, is intended, Frances, as humor, though your writing packs a far greater profundity . . . kinda like Peg Mokrass . . . you both stir me every which way but backwards, and my only hope, dear friends, is memory.
    Thanks, Frances, for posting your interview with Frances . . . I say this sincerely, but with humor in reserve . . .

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  • May 16, 2012 at 11:25 am
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    A cool idea, funny and very revealing, Frances. Now I think we should all take a moment to interview ourselves. Thanks.

    Reply
  • May 17, 2012 at 11:18 am
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    I concur Orville, but in my case such an exercise would be a bit suspect; perhaps a dissociative identity issue…like who’s on first?

    Reply

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