So, you’ve had a dizzying last few years…

Indeed. My head is still spinning a bit. In the span of about two and a half years, I experienced just about everything on the list of “top stressors”…I got divorced from a man I had been with for 20 years, got laid off, got pregnant, got married, moved to three different rental houses, gave birth at home, lost my mom to suicide one week later, bought and started renovating a house (which of course involved moving yet again), lost my new mother-in-law to a sudden heart attack less than four months after my mom died, plus I had two books published within three months of each other (Delta Girls, a novel, and My Life with the Lincolns, my first novel for young people) and had to try to promote them while the world under my feet was undergoing such seismic shifts.

How are you doing now?

Pretty good, all things considered. The baby, who is now one, is such a joy. I have yet to find the right balance between new motherhood, writing, teaching, and everything else in my life (including sleep), but I’m working on it. With a 20 year old and 17 year old, I had gotten used to having more time to myself, and the lack of autonomy is challenging, but I feel very lucky to hang out with such a funny, adorable little person.

You’re known more for your fiction—how does it feel to be a featured poet?

It feels wonderful…poetry is my first love as a writer and remains at the heart of my writing life. Other than a novel in verse I’ve been tinkering with, I admit I haven’t written much poetry lately, but I recently revamped my poetry manuscript, Lack/Luster, and have started to send it around to publishers, so I’m continuing to engage in the world of poetry (and am always nourished by it.) Lack/Luster is a “collected works” of sorts—it has a couple of poems from my undergraduate days, as well as poems from when my older kids were little, along with more recent work. I feel like once I get it out into the world, it will create space inside of me for a fresh batch of poems to emerge. I am eager to see what form they’ll take.

Who or what are some of your non-writerly writerly inspirations?

I went to Barcelona for the first time this past summer, and developed a huge creative crush on Gaudi. I was moved to tears inside of his unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral—it didn’t seem possible that a human being could conceive such a crazy structure, much less build it. I felt transformed just standing inside the space, my mind utterly blown. It made me want to find a way to write something equally strange and organic, equally grand. I doubt I will ever accomplish this, but it feels like something wonderful to aspire to.

On a much more mundane level, I was recently eating some really good bread with really good butter, and found myself so filled with awe and gratitude for our ancestors who figured out how to make bread, how to make butter, and how they taste doubly good when you put them together. I’ve felt that way, too, when eating fresh mozzarella with fresh basil and a really ripe tomato—whoever figured out that flavor combination is a serious genius. I would love to be able to find words that fit together in such a perfect, elemental way.

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GAYLE BRANDEIS is the author, most recently, of the novel in poems, Many Restless Concerns: The Victims of Countess Bathory Speak in Chorus (A Testimony) (Black Lawrence Press). Other books include the memoir The Art of Misdiagnosis (Beacon Press), the poetry collection The Selfless Bliss of the Body (Finishing Line Press), the craft book, Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperOne), and the novels The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins), which won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction of Social Engagement judged by Barbara Kingsolver, Toni Morrison, and Maxine Hong Kingston, Self Storage (Ballantine), Delta Girls (Ballantine), and My Life with the Lincolns (Henry Holt BYR), which was chosen as a state-wide read in Wisconsin. Her poetry, essays, and short fiction have been widely published in places such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, O (The Oprah Magazine), The Rumpus, Salon, Longreads, and more, and have received numerous honors, including a Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Award, Notable Essays in Best American Essays 2016 and 2019, the QPB/Story Magazine Short Story Award and the 2018 Multi Genre Maverick Writer Award. She teaches at Sierra Nevada College and Antioch University Los Angeles.

One response to “Gayle Brandeis: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. I’m back, having finished your memoir last week. It took me a few days to absorb what you had written. The main thing I will take away, in addition to your eloquent descriptions of this experience, is your reaction to the news of your mother’s death. “A space opens up in me. A vast white space…” (pg. 139). This speaks, in some ways, to how I felt upon hearing the news of my alcoholic mother’s death a few months ago. I had a twenty mile, mostly winding, country road drive to get to her house. You’re right, it wasn’t relief. For me, it was as if I floated into this vast white space and something guided me safely on my journey. The feeling of “almost…joy” was a result of the past fifteen years of worrying and waiting. It was over. I was free. No more speculation about what would happen. I knew the end of my mother’s story. Your memoir is painfully honest, and several times I cringed. You are brave to have written with such forthrightness. I admire this beautiful effort. Thank you.

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