Behind the Words: Anna Lea Jancewicz

Posted by on Apr 1, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Anna Lea Jancewicz

Anna Lea Jancewicz lives in Norfolk, Virginia, where she homeschools her two children, and teaches creative writing and People’s History for a homeschool co-op. She is Editor in Chief of Rabble Lit, a magazine for working class literature which promotes anti-racist proletarian solidarity, and her short story collection, (m)otherhood, was published by Widow and Orphan House Press in the fall of 2017. We talked about her poem in Spry, the need for more working class-specific literary spheres, breaking open stories about motherhood,Gilmore Girls, and men with vinyl siding companies.

Bess Cooley: Your poem “Black Robin” in issue 5 has this question of human-non-human animal relations at its core: the gutting of fish, the comment about human conservation efforts, ending on the pronouns we use for animals. That conversation seems to be coming more to the forefront of environmental questions recently. Is it something you write about often? Think about often? How does the non-human make its way into your human work?

Anna Lea Jancewicz: I think it’s endlessly fascinating, where we draw the line between ourselves and other animals. We wrestle with this desire to distinguish some part of ourselves as non-animal, while we also have a deep need to use animals in creating our symbologies, and in doing so identify with them. This tension is the heart of human history, of our narrative about “spirit.” So yeah, I think about it. But I’m not really an “animal person.” I’m very suspicious of the way we now fetishize our pets, the kind of anthropomorphizing that’s become an important part of modern bourgeois values. The affection we lavish on pets serves as virtue-signalling, and it’s highly commodified. “Fur-baby” makes my skin crawl like no other word. I’m much more interested in wildlife. And obviously, if you’ve read my work, monsters. 

You’re pretty much a triple threat, writing and publishing fiction (including flash), nonfiction, and poetry. How does working in all those genres inform the way you write? Do you begin different genres differently? Does being a poet change how you approach prose, or vice versa?

Honestly, I think of myself as firstly a poet. Because the language itself is always crucial. The sound, the rhythm, the mouthfeel of each word. I often have difficulty writing prose, because my primary instinct is to carve away every inessential as I go, and if I really want to tell a story I have to force myself to really just jam on the gas and do a wicked burnout mentally. I have to drive recklessly to make it happen.

And you’re an editor! At Tiny Donkey and Rabble Lit. Can you speak to how your writer’s (or reader’s) eye is shaped by that role, if at all?

The Tiny Donkey project has run its course, but I am so glad I could be a part of it. We published short form nonfiction about fairy tales and folklore, and while I joined the staff already in love with the genre and amazed by the richness of oral traditions, working on the journal I really saw how vital these stories still are, how continued analysis and interpretation and renewal keep them living and relevant not just in terms of our histories and the preservation of cultures, but also in terms of our present and future psychosocial needs. As a writer, it inspired me to attempt finding that kind of powerful symbolism within common experience that makes for universality and vitality. As an editor, I think I have a renewed commitment to amplifying voices that are doing the same. Bridging past to future, creating new worlds from the bedrock up. 

In founding and nurturing Rabble Lit, I’m doing the same, except for with less, like, trolls and glass slippers and lecherous frogs. Although not necessarily—which is to say, if you are writing epic poetry about a Marxist mermaid, get in touch with me immediately.

You describe your journal Rabble Lit as “a magazine for working class literature, which promotes anti-racist proletarian solidarity.” Did you see a need for that kind of work in literature or in the literary journal community? Tell us more about the journal, the project, and the work it does. 

I definitely saw a need. Ha, I’m going to give you the exclusive true story of Rabble’s birth! I’d worked on the staff of a few lit journals and I had been thinking for a while about starting a project of my own, but I hadn’t nailed down exactly what my angle should be. I was toying with some kind of magical realist bent, but it just wasn’t clicking. 

Then came the Trump inauguration. Although I’ve done political work and direct action in the past, I didn’t participate in that day’s Women’s March. I’m going to be honest, I’m glad the ladies were out there, but there was something about the pink-pussy-hatted middle class respectability of it that turned me off. Facebook selfies with pussy-hatted cops? Not my bag, dude, but you do you. However, that night I went to a friend’s birthday party and this guy in a pair of khaki pants said something that totally reawakened all my youthful radicalism in one supernova moment. It was about Gilmore Girls.

I never watched the show, see, but everybody at this birthday party for two foxy young librarians was supposed to choose which “team” we were on depending on which of the daughter’s boyfriends we liked best. We had to wear buttons proclaiming our allegiance. So I had to ask about the suitors. As soon as I heard one of them was bad-boy dirtbag, I was, naturally, sold on that kid. And then Khaki Guy says “Yeah, well, [Insert Square Kid’s Name Here] ended up a millionaire and [Insert Dirtbag Kid’s Name] probably has a vinyl siding company.” I stood there shocked for a second, with my meatball-on-a-toothpick in hand, and then I turned to my pal Erik, who is a fine upstanding queer feminist anarchist, and I said, “I’m about to start a muthafuckin class war up in here.” I told Khaki Guy that I should be so fucking lucky that my husband owned a vinyl siding company, I ate my meatball aggressively, then I went home and started to build the Rabble Lit website. 

I feel strongly that Fur-babies, Vegan Cupcakes, and People Who Can’t Respect a Man with a Vinyl Siding Company are three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. 

You just had a book come out—congratulations! [m]otherhood was published early this year. As the title implies, it’s a story collection full of mothers and families, but it’s also about more than that: women and human relationships. Did you come in with this project already in mind or did you just find yourself writing about mothers, about women in a domestic sphere?

I did just find myself writing mom stories. Darkly funny twisted transgressive ones. Ones that bit back at the image “mom stories” conjures. I got kind of obsessed with the idea of disconnection, and I wanted to see where that would take me. The mothers in my real life grrrl gang are sharp and bawdy and fierce and amazing, but we all face down this terrifying loneliness and exhaustion. We all fear losing our essential wildernesses in the process of domestication. Two things really inspired me to make this collection. First, I read Amber Sparks’s wonderful essay “Domestic Fabulism or Kansas with a Difference” at Electric Lit and thought oh yes, this, this is what I write! And second, one of my best friends told me that when she read “Off the Map” she broke down crying, and I thought oh yes, this, this is what I MUST write! 

Bess Cooley won the 2017 Mississippi Review Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in Mississippi Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Breakwater Review, Spry, and Forklift, Ohio, among others. She teaches at Purdue University and is an editorial reader at Spry.