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When did you start writing?

I was five, maybe six when I wrote and illustrated “My Autobiography.” I’ll read it to you: “I was born. I was a very very fat babby [sic].” I’d love to have that kind of brevity these days.


Who were you in a past life?

I’d like to say I was a vampire and that I’ve been around for eternity, but it’s simply not true. If I had to guess, I’d say I was either a French troubadour in the twelfth century or one of the painters of the Lascaux caves. I believe that we recycle proclivities from life to life. Which might explain why so much of my writing is infused with ideas from songs and/or images. Then again, maybe I was a snail, which might explain why I love being at home and traveling. Or perhaps I was an elephant, which might explain my preoccupation with memory and family.


What were you doing when the music died?

If you think it died when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, then I was a young child, likely asleep at home (in Manhattan). But if you think it died when John Lennon was killed, then I was hanging out with an English musician named Roy Pries in a bar called the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, California. Suddenly a TV crew came in and started asking everyone how they felt about John Lennon dying. None of us had heard the news (oh boy).


If you hadn’t become a writer, what vocation might you have pursued?

I would have become a mathematician. Not only is mathematics the true universal language, it is a discipline infused with thinking derived from many different cultures. And if I had become a mathematician, I’m pretty sure I would have devoted myself to the study of imaginary numbers.


Has there ever been a period of time when you were not your usual self and you did things that were unusual for you or that other people might have thought were excessive, foolish, or risky?

I’ve done a lot of excessive, foolish, and risky things that may seem unusual for other people. But I’m pretty sure it was always my usual self doing them and that they were usual for me at the time.


What is your favorite curse word?

Bordel, a French swear word. It means, literally, “brothel,” but if you say “c’est un bordel,” it means “what a mess.” I really love traditional curses, such as “May your left ear wither and fall into your right pocket” and “May the curse of Mary Malone and her nine blind illegitimate children chase you so far over the hills of Damnation that the Lord himself can’t find you with a telescope.”


Spiderman or Batman?

That’s really hard. Spiderman has that catch-you-in-my-web allure. Plus he’s more of a loner than Batman, who is part of a Dynamic Duo and is assisted by Alfred. Batman offers a kind of sexual ambiguity that I find alluring, and of course, he drives the Batmobile and stashes all his toys and gadgets and bat suits in the supremely cool Batcave. Both, I guess (though if you were asking me to choose between Toby Maguire and Michael Keaton, I’d go for Keaton).


What is your favorite animal and why?

Everything but humans. For the obvious reasons.


For the sake of this interview, can’t you just pick one.

On Sundays, my favorite animal is the otter because an otter knows how to frolic. On Mondays, I like elephants most, because they remember that life is not all about going back to work. On Tuesdays, especially those Tuesdays when I am apt to hit the snooze button ten times, I favor bears because they can be grizzly, black, polar, brown, or teddy. On Wednesdays, I love dolphins and whales because they are clever. Thursdays my favorite animals are all the birds—raptors, finches, corvids, etc.—because by Thursday, I wish I had wings. Fridays find me favoring the felines, especially my own cat. On Saturday, my favorite animal is canine, and in particular, my dog.


At times I have very much wanted to leave home. (check one):

True    X

False

I actually did run away from home, twice. When I was thirteen, I hid in my boyfriend, Richard’s, closet and read Jonathan Livingston Seagull. The second time, I was sixteen and I went to my best friend’s house because I wanted to hang out with her and also because I had a crush on her brother Richie; her mother drove the school bus.  These days I’m a pretty staunch homebody and would more likely feel compelled to leave my office. Though there are always moments when I’d like to be twenty again and have the kind of freedom where I could just take off and go wherever I pleased.


What is your favorite word?

Ludic.


What is the word you hate most?

Like, especially when it’s used as an interjection.


You allude to birds often in your writing. But you never write about your phobias about bugs. Why is that?

Growing up in New York City before the invention of the Roach Motel and before we knew about boric acid, I was exposed to cockroaches on a daily basis. They freaked me out—something about the way they twitched their antennae seemed sneaky and underhanded. I’d call for my father to kill them. My mother tried to alleviate my fears by naming them and talking to them as if they were guests, but that only freaked me out more. That’s all I can really say about it.


What plant or animal would you like to be reincarnated as?

A patch of moss, if a plant. A raven if an animal.


You take pleasure in putting things in order (check one):

Yes     X

No

Some years ago I assisted a good friend in throwing a party by doing all the cooking for over seventy people. One of the guests asked me how I managed this and I explained that it simply required a great deal of organization and planning ahead. Out of the blue, she asked me, “Did you play with files as a kid?” Her question stunned me because I had played with files; my dad, if he had to work on a Saturday, often took me to his office. I would play an imaginary game of spy in the file room.


What historical figure is your hero?

Miriam, sister of Moses. She knew what was happening around her—had her ear to the ground, so to speak—and took action. Plus, when the Jews were leaving Egypt, she played a tambourine and danced her way across the parted Red Sea and out of slavery. She was able to locate water in the desert. And she was a prophet. These are all good qualities to have when you’re in a hot place, no oasis in sight, accompanied by both your extended family and your tribe, for forty years, with no plumbing, no maps, and a brother who keeps receiving all the divine messages.


Do you have a tattoo?

No.


If you did have a tattoo, what and where would it be?

A small raven feather, on my shoulder.


Who were your favorite writers when you were growing up?

As a child, I was a devout fan of E. B. White—Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan, Walter Farley’s books about the black stallion, Bob Dylan’s musical poems. I was nine when I first read a novel, and it was For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway remains one of my favorite writers today. As a teenager, I devoured dramatic literature—in particular, Eugene O’Neill, Henrik Ibsen, Elmer Rice, August Strindberg, Samuel Beckett. In my twenties, Virginia Woolf claimed favorite status, a place she still occupies, alongside James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, John Berger, Susan Sontag, and a cast of many more.


If prostitution is wrong, then why are there so many examples of it in Genesis?

This could be a very long answer, but I’ll encapsulate two thousand years of history by saying that it wasn’t until the Church institutionalized religion that prostitution became wrong. Back in the days of Genesis, prostitutes were priestesses of the sacred temples, initiating the uninitiated in the ways of love.


What is your opposite gender name?

Alexander. (To my friend Alexander, I say: I am not making this up; the computer generated this answer.)


Where did your god come from?

From someone’s imagination. And, because I was raised as a Jew, a mezuzah on the doorframe, I tend to think a little like Lenny Bruce, who said that God lives in that little box on a slant in the doorway.


Evil spirits possess me at times (check one):

True    X

False

Only when I watch Fox News, listen to Sarah Palin, contemplate the eight years of Republican undoing, see pictures of oil-drenched wildlife, and/or on the eve of a blue moon.


Whose face would you choose to illustrate a new bank note?

Mick Jagger, with the inscription “You can’t always get you want” on one side and “Can’t get no satisfaction” on the other. That way, whenever people would spend it, they’d have a message about the evils of consumerism that would be roughly equivalent to the Surgeon General’s warning on a pack of cigarettes.


What century would you have preferred to have lived in?

Pre-contact, on the island of Manahatta.


After you die, what would you like God (if you think God exists) to say to you?

Let’s dance.


Do you feel guilty if you cry in public?

No, I just feel self-conscious.


Who is your favorite fictional character?

Charlotte the spider.


What is your favorite drug?

Feeling awakened.


My soul sometimes leaves my body (check one):

True   X

False

Only when it’s invited to ride the Soul Train. It always comes back. And no one ever offers me riches beyond compare for it.


What is the quality you most admire in dogs?

The way they wag their tails as if to say “What’s the next good thing?”


Has there ever been a time when you were not your usual self and thoughts raced through your head or you couldn’t slow your mind down?

Only when I have too much caffeine.


Who is your favorite character in a work of nonfiction?

Fred the dog in E. B. White’s essays.


Night or day?

Neither. I’ll take twilight, dusk, dawn, those liminal times of day when the mind is sharp and the light diffuse and creatures are awakening or preparing to settle down.


***

Thanks to David Foster Wallace for the title. Answers to more writerly questions can be found on interviews links or posted at my Web site: www.kimdanakupperman.com. Questions for this self-interview were compiled from a variety of sources, including e-mails from friends, The Mood Disorder Questionnaire, the Proust Questionnaire, the Bernard Pivot Questionnaire, a MySpace Either/Or Survey, an Online Name Generator, the Heirophant’s Proselytizer Questionnaire, the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, and an online emotions test.

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Kim Dana Kupperman KIM DANA KUPPERMAN is the recipient of the 2009 Bakeless Prize in Nonfiction, selected by Sue Halpern and awarded by Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Her work has appeared in BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 2006, BREVITY, FOURTH GENRE, HOTEL AMERIKA, NINTH LETTER, RIVER TEETH, and many other literary journals. Honors include notable mentions in BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS (2007, 2008, 2009) and the PUSHCART PRIZE. BEST OF THE SMALL PRESSES ANTHOLOGY (2007; 2010); fellowships from the Kenyon Review Writer’s Workshop (2010), the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference (2010), the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (2009), the Virginia Center for Creative Arts (2008); an emerging writer scholarship from the Center for Book Arts in New York City (2008); the 2003 Robert J. DeMott Prose Prize from QUARTER AFTER EIGHT; and first place in the 1996 Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics Essay Contest.

She is the founder of Welcome Table Press, an independent nonprofit dedicated to publishing and celebrating the essay. For her day job, she works as managing editor of THE GETTYSBURG REVIEW, an award-winning journal of poetry, prose, and art.

Ms. Kupperman was born and raised on the island of Manhattan and has lived in Massachusetts, California, France, Maine, and Pennsylvania. She has been writing ever since she could hold a pencil and form words.

3 responses to “Kim Dana Kupperman: The TNB Self-Interview – A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”

  1. JM Blaine says:

    This was refreshing, nice to see
    a self-interview that wasn’t trying
    too hard to be witty and hip.
    Um, not that you aren’t witty or hip
    I mean, well, uh…
    Never mind.

    Weren’t the prostitutes in Genesis
    for the temples of Baal? Or Dagon maybe?
    Still, Genesis, lots of crazy stuff in there.

    Yahweh & I will
    have to have a little
    literary roundtable
    about that one.

  2. Kelly says:

    Wow. What else is there to say. To be witty and brilliant and so damn down to earth. Best interview I have read. Literary or otherwise. Vanity Fair’s Proust should be so lucky:)

  3. […] more on Kupperman, see the “nonfiction self-interview” she recently gave to The Nervous […]

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