I’m nervous. Actually, I’m terrified that someone will think I’m narcissistic. Or maybe that they will recognize that I am a bit narcissistic. Either way, I have to eat my feelings. Fingernails will do.
It’s a disgusting habit. You know that, right?
So is voting for idiots into influential political positions. I feel my minor defilement is forgivable, considering.
Fair enough. Tell us about your book, The First Church of What’s Happening. How did you come up with the title?
I saw it in a photograph that was part of a 3D collage sculpture by LA artist Nancy Keyes. Do you know her work? She’s brilliant. The photo is a candid image of some folks standing before the sandwich board of a modest church, and it said “What’s Happening.” I thought, yeah, what is happening?
How does that lead to a book title?
The sculpture reminded me of how our behaviors are changing because of the Internet and mobile technologies. Mobile technology has become the new church. It is ritualistic, all-encompassing, and with it, we even take on a supplicant posture.
So, your book is about modern technology?
Not exactly. It concerns how fundamental aspects of our being—perception, love, identity—have been influenced by technological dissociation.
Is it a bleak perspective?
Not at all. I wouldn’t say it’s celebratory, either. I hoped to delve into something more complex with the essays in the book.
You published the book with a small press out of Oakland and Brooklyn, Nomadic Press. Why them?
Nomadic is an exciting literary community. I say community over press, because their commitment is to publish work that brings writers into conversation with one another, and to maintain a vibrant literary village through an ambitious assembly of events. They are a wonderful organization. And, they have killer taste. (laughs, ostensibly to self). Some of my favorite Bay Area writers are published through them.
You also run your own press, Foglifter. Tell us about that.
I started Foglifter with Chad Koch. It’s a press devoted to queer literature and aesthetic.
What does that mean?
I can’t tell you, but you know what it is when you see it. (laughs). We look for work that is beyond merely queer-identified writers—though we seek that, too. We are interested in marginal, transgressive, dare I say experimental, work (I loathe the term experimental, since all writing is an experiment), in both form and content. Submissions are open now for our Spring 2018 edition! And, we are working with RADAR Productions to produce a queer POC manuscript this summer.
You identify as a queer writer. What does that mean to you?
It means everything to me. It means I can probe along the margins. My perspective is quite duplicitous. I am white and cis-male, so I have navigated circles of privilege; I am also a queer kid from a low-income background, so I have navigated outside of the circles of privilege, simultaneously. I can code-switch, and that has allowed me a particular kind of cultural vantage. I’m indebted to my identity.
What other writing projects are you working on? Anything you can reveal?
I have a completed novel manuscript, entitled Highlandtown, that concerns the issues of displacement and racism in a poor Baltimore neighborhood targeted for an urban renewal project—a theme park in the theme of Baltimore itself. I also just finished a book of short fiction, The Violence Almanac, that examines the role of violence in our culture. And, I’ve begun working on a novel, The Summer of the Locusts, that explores the friendship between two boys living in a West Virginia trailer park. It examines poverty, domestic violence, and socially constructed masculinities, through the lens of pre-teen boys.
Does all your writing have a social justice theme?
Doesn’t most writing? My stuff is simply written with the idea of social justice in mind.
These are all big, heavy themes.
Yeah. I recognize that.
So, you don’t have a sense of humor?
I ask myself this all the time! (In fact, I’m asking myself this right now). I think when most people meet me, they wouldn’t imagine I write about such grave subjects like domestic violence, infanticide, racial profiling, poverty. I tend to be a fairly light-hearted person. I dance in public. I make pubescent jokes about butts and farts. Maybe writing is my venue for getting serious. Aren’t all writers exhibiting multiple personalities? (Not to be confused this with MPD, of course). I write about that which I have a hard time understanding. Writing helps me figure things out. It’s cheaper than a therapist.
Is it working?
(maniacally laughs, and doesn’t stop)
MIAH JEFFRA is from Baltimore. They have been awarded the New Millennium Fiction Prize, The Sidney Lanier Prize for Fiction and the Clark-Gross Novel Award; a finalist for the Arcadia Prize in nonfiction and New Letters Fiction Prize; a Lambda Literary Fellowship in nonfiction; a Ragdale Fellowship; and residencies from Arteles, Red Gate, Ragdale and The Hub City Writers Project. Jeffra serves as editor of Foglifter Press, and teaches writing, rhetoric and cultural studies at Santa Clara University and San Francisco Art Institute. He lives in San Francisco with his husband and roommates, both human and canine.