Voices: Arielle Burgdorf

Arielle Burgdorf is always on the move: Originally from Washington, D.C., she lived in Philadelphia, Edinburgh, San Diego, and San Francisco and recently started pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing in Pittsburgh. Her work has appeared in Maximum Rocknroll, Feministe, The Feminist Review, Horseless Press, Bone and Ink Press, and can be found online here, here, and here.

Arielle 2

How did you get interested in writing?

Very cliche but I’ve been interested in writing my whole life. When I was around 7 or so I went to Kinkos, made a bunch of photocopies of a story I’d written, put binding around it, and announced to everyone that I had “published” a book. I’ve been constantly writing pieces and publishing them, whether it’s zines or book reviews or novels. It was definitely something I moved away from during high school because I was convinced I wasn’t good enough to become a professional writer and that it wouldn’t get me anywhere financially. But then in college I read people like Lynda Barry who advocate that everyone is an artist, and I started to feel more like that’s self censorship, and who cares? I don’t have to be the best for it to be meaningful to me and enhance my life, or for other people to enjoy it. So I started showing my writing to more people, my friends at first, and I found out that people genuinely liked what I was doing and that really encouraged me to do more. I think part of me always felt like it was egotistical to even speak about writing, but especially as a woman if you don’t take yourself seriously as a writer no one is ever going to take you seriously.

Do your politics influence your fiction?

I want my politics to carry into my writing more than they probably do, but the intention is always there. I don’t ever make it super explicit and write an anarchist main character for example, I haven’t liked most of the explicitly political stuff I’ve read like that, it comes off corny or preachy and I don’t want to be either of those. But I identify as feminist and queer, and to me both of those involve disrupting typical narratives. Centering marginalized people in narratives is political, allowing those characters to be happy and healthy at the end of the story is political, imagining endings for them that aren’t possible in the current world is political. Writing complex female characters not describing them using the male gaze is political, writing queer sex that isn’t titillating to a straight male reader is political, subverting the reader’s expectations of how a certain race or class of person would act is political.

You move a lot. How does that influence your writing?

Haha. That’s very true! Since I saw you in San Francisco I have moved 3 times: to San Diego, Baltimore, and the D.C. suburbs (and full disclosure, I am planning to move again by fall!) I used to think that environment had a huge influence on writing, but now I’m not so sure. Wherever you move, the story is always there. There are aspects of landscape and atmosphere that seep in for sure (for instance, it’s hard to write about gloomy places when you’re living in sunny California and vice versa), but since I write fiction a lot of it is based on my imagination, and in some ways the more boring a place is the more you can focus inwards and create something original. The benefit of moving is I always meet new people, gain different perspectives, and I get to see what essential elements of myself remain. On the flip side, it is hard to hold onto relationships with people when you move that much, and it is hard to find a writing community that you can be a part of. Although honestly with a little work I think it is possible, for instance my friend Max who is a poet from San Francisco just visited me in D.C., I met you while I was couchsurfing in Belfast, and I introduced you to some writer friends of mine who live in San Diego/Tijuana.  I like to think of my community as a worldwide network rather than a fixed place, and that helps a lot, conceptualizing things differently.

As a former librarian, how would you describe the role and importance of libraries today?

All the data suggests everything libraries signified in the past is over. We are moving towards libraries as tech-centric community centers, with more of an emphasis on 3-D printing, internet use, help with/loaning out different gadgets, job searching, and free classes. Which is fine! I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Libraries should serve the needs of their communities, and if those needs change then libraries need to change with them, adapt or die. There will always be a need for free literature, and some people (like me) will always want to check out physical books but I think we are seeing a lot less of that already. But to me libraries are incredibly important and still relevant because they are one of the few places left in our capitalist world that you don’t have to pay to be in (versus Starbucks), and they are one of the few places that get used by all classes, races, genders, ability levels, and ages at the same time. There are not many other spaces left where homeless people are interacting with rich folks looking for the latest Lonely Planet guide for their vacation and teens using the computers while their younger brothers and sisters have storytime, and I think that interaction is beneficial for everyone.

You have played bass in various punk bands. How would you describe the difference between expressing yourself with music or with words?

Expressing myself in writing comes very naturally to me whereas playing music doesn’t, it’s definitely an experience where I have to work a lot harder and focus and it can be frustrating in that respect. Also I totally CAN’T write song lyrics, I’ve tried so many times but my brain just doesn’t work that way. I do try to think of writing in terms of music, one of my favorite music critics, Lester Bangs, had a goal of making musical criticism as exciting and explosive as punk and rock’n’roll music when he first heard it — I don’t know if anyone ever really succeeds in trying to capture a sonic experience in words, but that’s an amazing goal to set yourself. Music has the advantage of being immediately accessible and relatable to everyone, across languages and cultures; I think more authors should try to achieve something like that. And likewise I think we ought to worship great writers the way we worship rockstars… There are only a few people like Kathy Acker and Neil Gaiman that really achieved that.

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