Writers are by definition obsessed with words. And when it comes down to it, unless you’re really plucky, there are two or three words you’re stuck with for life: your name. Every other week I’ll ask a different writer five or so questions on the subject. This week I talked with Lidia Yuknavitch. She is the author of the novel Dora: A Headcase, a modern farce, and The Chronology of Water. And some other books. She writes and teaches and loves and mothers in Portland, Oregon. “Explicit Violence” will appear in the forthcoming anthology, Get Out of My Crotch, due out from Cherry Bomb Books in 2013, co-edited by Kim Wyatt and Rumpus columnist Sari Botton.


I doubt it’s much of a wager that you have some experience with the Groucho Marx song “Lydia the Tattooed Lady.” How has that worked out for you?

I’m frequently serenaded.  I love it. I love Groucho, I love the song, I love tattoos, I love people I don’t know singing to me.


Are there any other famous Li/ydias to whom you feel kindred? I read about one named Lidia Poët who was the first female lawyer in Italy. Apparently her subsequent disbarring led to the movement that made it later possible for women to practice law there.

Actually, I’ve never looked up famous Lidias/Lydias.  Growing up near Seattle there were no other Lidias so I just felt what I’ve felt my whole life – different.  Kind of out of place.  It’s a much more common name in places like Eastern Europe, where my paternal family is from – Lithuania, to be specific.  There I think the name is kind of common and uneventful.  Ha.  I will say this: when I hear my name coming out of the mouths of Latin American people?  I swoon.  Leeeeeediuh.  I’m a sucker for non-American accents.


Seems like Lidia Bastianich is another famous Lidia these days. Her last name even has a somewhat similar ring to as Yuknavitch. Have any thoughts about her?

I totally own and use the crap out of her cookbook.


Do you know Lydia Loveless’s music? I wonder how you think it goes with yourself and/or your writing.

I COMPLETELY DIG her music and talent and radicalized sass. I’m for it. Music is a relatively big influence on my writing, but not so much literally.  More figuratively. You know? And often instrumental, like jazz.  But punk old school and new – it speaks to some fundamental ideas I have about language and society.


Now that I’m reflecting on it, it seems like all the Li/ydias I can think of are really strong, powerful women. Would you agree? What do you think is the connection?

Well, I’ve not met many, but I can say the one’s I’ve met and heard of are no wusses.  Maybe there is something in the phonetics. HA.

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MATTHEW BATT is the author of Sugarhouse, a memoir about renovating a Salt Lake City crack house and his life along with it. It comes out this June with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Tin House, Mid-American Review, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere. He's the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and he teaches English and creative writing at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. And yes, that's his real name.

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