My first book, a short-story collection, was often described as being “about victims.” That description used to make me angry. But I’ve come to realize it’s not totally off the mark. As a writer, I seem to have an imperative to examine victimhood, not in a way that wallows in abject passivity, but that examines self-definition and identity. Since I’ve started writing about social services–especially the changing attitudes about philanthropy, shaped by tech and the “sharing economy,” and the emphasis on “optics” as opposed to actual human aid—I’ve realized I’m still writing about all my old preoccupations. Namely, the evergreen problem of having one’s story told and owned by forces outside of one’s control. My work will probably always revolve around an obsession with subverting and challenging the conventional definitions of victim, villain, and savior.
While at Headlands
While at Headlands I’ll be working on a book of essays, I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You (contracted with Graywolf) and a novel, Prone (contracted with WW Norton), both of which explore homelessness, trauma, and the criminalization of poverty, particularly in the Bay Area. With both books, I’m trying to situate these subjects in relation to the concept of “bearing witness”: a radical practice I’ve seen enacted most authentically by the people I’ve worked with in social services. In an age of voyeurism, bearing true witness is a subversive act that goes beyond empathy. It entails a kind of necessary erasure of the self-referential “relatability” litmus test we tend to instinctively apply to everything, from political discourse to fictional characters to the spectacle of human suffering.
Ugly and Bitter and Strong, essay, originally published in Zyzzyva, Spring/Summer 2018.
Philanthropy, short story, originally published in Granta and Best American Short Stories 2013.
People Are Starving, essay, originally published in The Sun, May 2018.