Nava Renek, the editor of Wreckage of Reason: An Anthology of Contemporary Xxperimental Prose by Women Writers (Spuyten Duyvil 2008), is an educator and writer whose fiction and non-fiction has been published in a variety of literary magazines and websites. Her first novel, Spiritland, was published in 2002. In 2006, she received the first of two research grants from PSC/CUNY to begin the process of producing this anthology for which she received nearly 300 submissions. Visit the book’s myspace.
She’s interviewed here by David F. Hoenigman, author of Burn Your Belongings.
DH: Please tell us a bit about this anthology.
NR: The first question everyone asks me when they hear about the anthology is: what do you mean by “experimental?” I really don’t know what elicits this response, but it’s almost across the board. Is it a challenge to me, a challenge to publishing, a challenge to the writers who cross preconceived notions of normalcy? I suspect it’s a bit of all this, but initially, the question rubs me the wrong way. Must readers already have a concrete idea of what’s to be found between the cover of a book before they can feel confident that they’ll understand the book? For me, experimentation starts with the freedom to move away from traditional narrative, plot, language, and sentence structure. For others, this definition may be different or different in some degree. No matter what the definition, anyone who opens this anthology, will see the many ways writers have “experimented” with the written word. Some of it is visual, much is by appropriating other forms of the written word and cultural iconography and finding new and less linear means to tell a story.
Because market forces have closed traditional venues for publishing to all but very conventional narrative, almost any writing that is different could be considered “avant-garde” or “edgy” by consumers or booksellers. I hope when reading this book “experimental” is not an antagonistic adjective that makes readers move away from the book, but instead, it’s a word that will excite them, prepare them to come to the book with open minds and enjoy the vast range of styles and subject matter found there.
DH: How did you come up with the idea?
NR: When I set out to put this book together, I thought it would fill a void. I wanted to create a book that was not already out there in the universe. I’d always liked difficult film and visual arts, and I was familiar with experimental writing, but most of the experimental writers who I’d read were male. From experience working with a small press over the last few years, I’d become more and more aware of the many women out there who were pushing the boundaries of convention, and I thought I’d like to use my experience in publishing and the administrative skills I’d amassed throughout the many “day jobs” I had, to publish and promote a compilation of work I was very excited about.
DH: Why the title Wreckage of Reason?
NR: Wreckage of Reason was extracted from a quote from Virginia Woolf who I believe was a master innovator of narrative and language. Although the quote itself doesn’t directly use the phrase “wreckage of reason,” I believe the quote’s essence reflects what has to be put aside in order to write freely. Woolf’s quote, which is printed at the front of the anthology is: “It is the nature of the artist to mind excessively what is said about him. Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who’ve minded beyond reason the opinions of others.”
The title “Wreckage of Reason,” I hope, says a lot about where we are as a society during the Bush-era and also depicts the fragmentation of narrative that often makes up “experimental” literature.
DH: How did you choose which stories to include?
NR: Choosing the stories was much more difficult than I expected. I received nearly 300 high quality submissions. I happened to have been recovering from surgery, so I was partially bedridden at the time and I decided to set the stories in piles around me in categories such as experimental in form, unconventional subject matter, language, constraints, etc. Then, I re-read the stories and rated them for quality from one to ten, ten being the highest, and put the most successful stories at the top of each pile. From there, I picked a story from each category, until I had compiled approximately 300 pages of text. All the stories I chose had been given the highest rating. Finally, I ordered the stories in a way that I thought made narrative sense. Although the stories certainly don’t “belong” together, if the reader is observant, she will find common threads that link each story to the one before or after it. I was extremely pleased with the outcome and love it when other readers come up to me and tell me that they’ve read the book as a whole. That makes the hard work most satisfying.
DH: Were you surprised to get so many submissions?
NR: What I didn’t know, was that there is a large community of women who write experimental fiction. Once these communities heard about my project, I got a lot of enthusiastic support from them. In the end, although I did most of the hard work putting the book together, but it was a much more collaborative effort than I ever expected, and I think that is reflected in the number of readings, panels, and projects that have already spun off from the initial anthology.
I rarely comprehend the many different levels of satisfaction I’ll get from large projects before I start them, and this one was no different. Now that the book has been published, I’m awed by the experience and the number of active vibrant women I’ve met and the beautiful book I had a part in producing.
About the author:
David F. Hoenigman is the author of Burn Your Belongings.