Attenberg is the New York Times bestselling author of seven books of fiction, including The Middlesteins and All This Could Be Yours. She has contributed essays to the New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Sunday Times, and the Guardian, among other publications. She lives in New Orleans.
Her other books include the critically acclaimed memoir, Whip Smart(St. Martin’s Press 2010), and the essay collection, Abandon Me(Bloomsbury 2017), which was a LAMBDA Literary Award finalist, a Publishing Triangle Award finalist, an Indie Next Pick, and was widely named a Best Book of 2017. A craft book, Body Work, will be published by Catapult in March 2022.
The inaugural winner of the Jeanne Córdova Nonfiction Award from LAMBDA Literary, her work has appeared in publications including The Paris Review, The Sun, The Kenyon Review, Tin House, Granta, The Believer, McSweeney’s, The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, Elle, and Vogue. Her essays have won prizes from Prairie Schooner, Story Quarterly, The Sewanee Review, and The Center for Women Writers at Salem College. She is a four-time MacDowell fellow and has also received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Vermont Studio Center, The Barbara Deming Memorial Foundation, The BAU Institute at The Camargo Foundation, The Ragdale Foundation, and The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, which named her the 2018 recipient of the Sarah Verdone Writing Award.
She co-curated the Mixer Reading and Music Series in Manhattan for ten years and served on the Board of Directors for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts for five. The recipient of an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, she is an associate professor at the University of Iowa, where she teaches in the Nonfiction Writing Program.
This is Melissa’s fourth time on the podcast. She first appeared in Episode 58on April 4, 2012. Her second appearance was in Episode 404on March 13, 2016. Her third appearance came in Episode 519, on May 9, 2018.
Broder has written for The New York Times, Elle.com, VICE, Vogue Italia, and New York Magazine’s The Cut. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Iowa Review, Guernica, Fence, et al. She is the winner of a Pushcart Prize for poetry.
Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Amber Tamblyn. She is an author, actress and director. She’s been nominated for an Emmy, Golden Globe and Independent Spirit Award for her work in television and film. She is the author of three books of poetry including the critically acclaimed bestseller, Dark Sparkler. And her debut novel, Any Man, is available from Harper Perennial.
Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Allie Rowbottom. Her new book is called Jell-O Girls: A Family History (Little, Brown). Her essays can be found in Vanity Fair, Salon,The Florida Review, No Tokens, The South Loop Review, PQueue, Hunger Mountain, The Rumpus, A Women’s Thing and elsewhere.
I had no capacity to take new clients and I turned down everyone who reached. There was no one to even refer them to. I am the only person (that I am aware of) who does this specific set of services for artists with my precise training. I thought if I wrote it all down in a book, I could be of service to more artists.
Then the 2016 presidential election vomited all over America. I quickly wrote up a pamphlet called Making Art During Fascism as a toolkit to help artists think about how to maintain their lives, their practices, and their (probable) increased activism. My friend, the writer Michelle Tea, asked if I wanted to expand this pamphlet into a short volume for Feminist Press where she’d recently launched the imprint Amythest Editions. I both expanded that pamphlet and incorporated a written account of what it is I do with artists. That’s how this all went down!
The realization that art could first save and then expand my life came when I was a teenager in a troubled home. Life with my mentally ill mom and alcoholic dad near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before the Internet, was difficult. A smart, queer feminist without the language to talk about any of it—let alone identify with those lineages—I was profoundly depressed and mostly miserable. I ached for art and counterculture (remember that word?), but they were really hard to come by in small Rust Belt towns in the nineties. I read books, made zines, bought 45s, and ordered Sub Pop record catalogs out of the back of SPIN magazine, which at the time was a wonderland filled with mysterious ads for things like The Anarchist Cookbook.
Somedays I’m not sure. I’m a very private person so being public about anything has been, well, interesting. Sometimes I want to close my eyes and pretend I don’t see anything public about myself. When I started to read my poetry at open-mics, other adopted Koreans wanted a copy or wanted to talk with me about my poems and I wasn’t ready for that. I just wanted to read because it was therapeutic. Now I’m ready to share and talk and if it’s helpful to someone, then it’s worth it.
Your book Getting Offis about your struggle with sex and porn addiction, but it’s also about your journey towards shame-free womanhood, so I’m just going to ask you what everyone’s wondering—did you ever get into bestiality porn?
That’s what everyone’s wondering?
Well you write that some porn is bad, right? What about sloshing? Is that bad too? If I like bestiality and sloshing does that mean I have a problem?
I think you may have misunderstood something. Did you read the book?
The blurbs say your book is funny, and yet it explores that era just after the feminist movement. Feminism is serious, necessary. How did this turn out to be funny?
It’s not a slapstick book, no. But the gap between what you expect and what you get instead—the ludicrously unexpected—is the definition of a punchline. If readers find the book funny, that’s probably because it’s about a life in which incompatible values coincide. I straddled social classes. I straddled opposed definitions of womanhood. This made for predicaments: the wrong words and behaviors in the right setting; the right words and behaviors in the wrong setting. And I prefer being amused, not stricken.
You are in a church in the University District of Seattle. You are compulsively early, so you take a seat near the front. There are thirty other people there already. Mostly academic-looking twenty-something riot grrrls, and one guy who looks a lot like Adam Driver.1 (You are also twenty-something. You are twenty-eight, to be exact, which is also Lena Dunham’s age. You feel older than everyone around you, but it’s because your hair is not dyed anything. You aren’t wearing a single skull, and your one and only facial piercing has been healed over for nearly a decade. You have kids. You drove your minivan here from the suburbs. There are a million reasons for you to feel older, really.) The man who is potentially Adam Driver is slumped down in his seat, chewing on something. You text your husband.
“Now, none of us knows what to expect from Mavis Wilkerson,” my mother said, looking back in my direction from her position in the front passenger seat.
Several white sheets fluttered in the wind, hanging loosely to clotheslines. I’d started counting them a ways back, as my father drove us, winding in-and-out through back country roads.
In those days, I often found myself sitting in the backseat of my parents’ white Oldsmobile, driven from one supper to the next across the expanse of the Texas Panhandle. The trip to the Wilkersons’ farm was no different.
By the time you read this your Dear Old Dad—if I’m lucky—will still live: an oversized raisin clinging to my dusty tomes in a stinking armchair, nodding off with my glasses skiing down my nose. I will begrudge your generation’s shitty music and ridiculous clothing and our leaders’ uselessness, and all of this will annoy you. I’ve felt this way for most of my life and, yes, I’ve pretty much always been insufferable.