Behind the Words: Catie Joy

Posted by on Apr 15, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Catie Joy“After the Bombs” by Catie Joy was contributed to Spry’s “Beanstalks” section, which is devoted to essays from those who experienced the Boston Marathon bombings. Catie’s account of the bombing moves far beyond that day; she highlights broader cultural implications and examines the instincts of some to blame entire groups of people for the actions of a few. Catie is an MFA candidate in nonfiction writing at Emerson College, and she is the nonfiction editor for Redivider. Her author website can be found here.


Julia Blake: In “After the Bombs” you state: “The rest of the afternoon was a swirl of cable news, Twitter feeds, and graphic photographs on websites. Santiago had to stop watching, but I couldn’t. Deadened, I thought, narrating my reaction back to myself.”  This so effectively captures the distance we feel from ourselves when we are in shock or grieving. How did writing this piece affect that protective distance?

Catie Joy: I wrote “After the Bombs” as an in-class exercise a couple of nights after the Marathon, so I was still in that state, I think. I remember reading that piece aloud in class (the professor, Joan Wickersham, always had us read our in-class writing immediately after finishing it) and feeling as though that was the first time I’d allowed myself to have an emotional response. Because I was so focused on consuming new information, I’m not sure I’d really had the time or energy to reflect. After writing the piece, I brought it home and read it over and over in an effort to understand my own feelings, and that’s when the emotional distance I felt from myself that week began to close.

JB: Your work highlights the automatic and destructive reactions of some individuals to lash out against entire cultural groups, lumping everyone under one negative umbrella. Your ability to get to the heart of the matter and passion for supporting those who are being penalized for something they have not done indicates that you would be a strong advocate to help others. I see on your bio page that your work is “at the intersection of memoir and cultural criticism, and is concerned both with personal narrative and with broader issues of identity.” How has advocacy been a part of your writing identity, or have you considered writing for advocacy groups? 

CJ: I spent much of my time in college in courses about politics, identity, and culture, and even before that, even as a child, I was a very political person. I’m not particularly interested in policy or party politics, but the real, human end is compelling. I can’t turn that part of my mind off—everything I write is political in some way, even if I don’t want it to be. I don’t necessarily see myself writing for advocacy groups, but I will always write on (or in the neighborhood of) political and social issues. There’s that dull criticism of memoir—that it’s self-involved, that a memoir is like a 300-page selfie—that I feel I’m always fending off. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that most good memoirs transcend the personal to make some sort of commentary on the larger world, whether that commentary is explicit or between the lines. I don’t see myself as an activist because activists do a great deal more than think and write about the issues they care about, but my writing is generally activist in nature.

JB: Are there any reflections or experiences from Marathon Monday you would include if you were to rework “After the Bombs”?

CJ: I’m not sure I would rework that piece, but in the year and a half since I wrote it, I have revisited the idea of family estrangement. When I wrote “After the Bombs,” I felt like I’d been punched—both by what happened on Marathon Monday and by my cousin’s horrifying response to it. I’m still a little injured by that, but in writing on the subject since then, I have taken a slightly more distant, thoughtful approach.

JB: What led you to delve into translation, and are you still involved with this?

CJ: I’ve always been curious about translation. I imagined it would involve a great deal of focus on every level—individual words and sentences and sounds and meanings—and that appealed to me as a writer. Translation can feel like a puzzle, but one you’re both inventing and solving. It’s restrictive, in that you are recreating someone else’s work in new language, but because there are so many choices to make and so many ways to translate a single sentence, the challenge, I think, has more to do with freedom than constraint. My fiancé grew up in Guayaquil, Ecuador, so we visit his family there nearly every summer. I’ve enjoyed Latin American fiction since high school, when I read Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold for the first time, and I realized on one trip to Guayaquil that I had access to the work of emerging writers, young poets and fiction writers who don’t have an audience in the United States—neither in English nor in Spanish. I’ve been working on a translation of experimental short fiction by a young Ecuadorian writer. I’m not sure if it will go anywhere, but at the very least I can say that my Spanish vocabulary has improved!

JB: How does being the nonfiction editor for Redivider affect your writing life?

CJ: Reading hundreds of pages of new nonfiction, first as a reader and now as the nonfiction editor, has given me a sense of what’s happening at this very moment out there in the minds and worlds of writers. When I read and accept submissions, I feel clued in to the literary landscape. I’ve also gained some insight into the way editors read, and I think that has been helpful when I look at my own work. I’ll read over an essay or chapter I know I need to revise, whine about it internally for a while, and then remember a fantastic piece I read a month ago and how I’d like my own work to have that crisp quality—that makes it easier to cut the lines and passages I’ve resisted tossing.

JB: What are you reading now, and what book(s) could you read repeatedly? 

CJ: I just finished reading Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members, a sad-funny novel in recommendation letters. Now I’m finishing up Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club, which I neglected to read until it was assigned in one of my classes. I’ve read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home many times—I’m so attached to it that I can’t imagine letting anyone borrow my copy. I have a towering stack of books in my to-read pile, though, so I doubt I’ll have a chance to reread any book anytime soon.

JB: What’s next for you?

CJ: I’m working on my MFA thesis, a memoir about adoption—that’s on my docket for the foreseeable future.

Julia Blake lives in Washington, D.C. and is an adjunct faculty member in both an English department and a Mental Health Counseling program. She earned her MFA in Fiction at Spalding University. Her work has been published in Soundings Review and is forthcoming in Red Savina Review.

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