Superstition Review is excited to share a podcast project planned and produced by SR intern Claire van Doren. In this four-episode audio series, Claire will be talking with SR’s queer contributors. In today’s episode, Claire interviews Cavar. [sarah] Cavar (they/them) is a PhD student and writer of transMad things. They are editor-in-chief of Stone of Madness and swallow::tale presses, and their writing can be found in CRAFT Literary, Split Lip Magazine, Electric Lit, and elsewhere. Their debut novel, Failure to Comply, is forthcoming with featherproof books (2024). To learn more, visit their website, follow them @cavarsarah on twitter, and at librarycard.substack.com.
The following transcript has been edited for clarity. Credit goes to FreeSound.org for the sound effects.
Claire van Doren: Hi! My name’s Claire van Doren, and you’re listening to the Superstition Review Pride Community Project. Today, we’ll be hearing from Cavar. They’ll be discussing their experiences with the queer community and how it impacts their work. This is one of four Pride Community specials. Stick around to hear from more of Superstition Review’s queer contributors.
Cavar: I’m Cavar. I use they/them pronouns. I’m a PhD student in Cultural Studies at UC Davis, and also run around, put my little raccoon hands in a bunch of different writing and editing kinds of projects. I usually describe my work as—not really bridging the creative and the scholarly—but rather, sort of, undoing the binary between them. I hope to write things where dividing them into creative work and academic work doesn’t really make sense anymore. I’m also interested in doing work that really confounds sense-making, as a goal—mad works, quite frankly, which is a theme that comes up again and again.
I think that surrealism, in a lot of ways, is a way that writers approach—and tap on the shoulder—of madness, even if they don’t quite feel comfortable with the terminology of madness specifically. I think that the idea of the surreal—this idea that you’re able to cross from this reality to into a slightly bent or modified reality… It’s something that’s so in line with this “mad politic,” where multiple realities are accepted and celebrated. Instincts that one person might see , might not be the things that you see. And using surrealism to really get into those spaces—I think it’s a really incredibly valuable, mad tool.
It also frees me up to write things that feel a lot truer to me. I feel like I often experience these feelings, thoughts, experiences that go beyond what realism has to offer. And, to be freed up to use the language of the surreal, paradoxically, even though it’s supposedly “fake,” actually allows me to be a lot more honest. So growing up, I actually didn’t write fantasy or science-fiction very much. I think it’s because I associated all of it with—either like the hard sci-fi, where it’s hard to understand it. Or, like, A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy, with the maps and the names and the seven hundred pages. And so I thought that that was completely not for me. And I was right, but there’s a lot more to fantasy and science-fiction than that.
And so I gradually dipped my toes in later and got more enthusiastic about fantasy and science fiction. And I was really compelled by the way the authors used the languages of the future to address those realities and contemporary problems. And I was really impressed by the way that systems of magic and sorcery can be used to articulate everyday forms of violence and strife that we were dealing with now. And from there, I passed from a more grounded sense of fantasy and science fiction, to people beginning to recognize it—folks like Samuel R. Delany, who is taking fantasy and science fiction—being like, “Okay, but what if we challenge the structure of realism itself? What if we didn’t simply imbue future politics or wizards or witches into a kind of present-day logic? What if we up-ended logic?” And I think that both discovering the surreal that way—and also beginning to read my first collections of poetry when I was in college—it really made me realize that I was allowed to write things that didn’t only not exist, but didn’t really make sense in any universe.
One of my favorite authors is actually a literary young-adult author named Neal Shusterman. He writes mostly speculative fiction-slash-dystopian kind of books, for the broad category of reluctant readers. And I was skeptical because I feel like reluctant readers books are often stereotyped as “boy books” and books that don’t really have a lot of interest for people who are already drawn to a bunch of different genres and to writing. But I began reading Shusterman’s books when I was in middle-school. And I physically cannot put those books down—and I still can’t. And I think that that’s a testament to the fact that good work is good work, and it’s going to draw people from all different backgrounds and all different spaces.
I would really like to focus more on forms of writing that right now I simply don’t have the tools or knowledge to do. I talked to a couple of colleagues who are into boardgames, and they’re like, “Oh my God, what if I made a novel that was a game?” Or thinking about multi-modal approaches to writing. Things that involve QR codes and music and videos and all kinds of weird shit.
One of the great things about using mixed media is that it draws in people who are into music and into graphic novels and into computer games and into board games. I would love to work on something where visual art was the central component to it. I would love to work more on “found” documents and work more on archives. Really, just using as many forms and technologies and methods as possible—because so far, my expansion beyond just writing prose on a page has just gotten more fun the more weird stuff I do.
[Phone hangs up]
CVD: Thanks for joining us! Be sure to check out our YouTube page for more audio and video content, as well as our official Superstition Review blog.