Nicolle Elizabeth is a baker and bike mechanic. Her work has appeared in Elimae, Keyhole, Wigleaf, Night Train and others. Her chapbook, Threadbare Von Barren, is forthcoming on Paper Hero Press. She writes about translated literature at Words Without Borders.
what are you reading now
Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. I’m not even kidding. I’m writing a YA novel and needed what seemed like a solid example of storytelling. It's woven together in a very straight-forward formulaic way which just flows so beautifully. It's a great example of how to transition complicated material from one scene to the next, plus the prose is quite poetic. I needed a generally accepted non-weird example of “how to write a novel” because I have no idea what I’m doing so I thought if I’m going to try to write a novel I’d better teach myself how to write a novel first or like at least see how a novel works. I took a novel workshop last year to try to learn but ended up writing an 81 page book told in short-shorts. I mean I loved the class but still. It’s weird, I have to print it out and look at it on the floor. Someone recently told me that’s how Aaron Sorkin wrote The West Wing. He had to put it all out on the floor and cut it up to get himself to see it all. I think I remember he was arrested at an airport with mushrooms in his briefcase like ten years ago or something? I asked Michael Cunningham a few years ago, when I realized I was going to write this YA novel I’m now finally just starting on, if it was hard to switch from one form to another. He looked at me like it was an absurd thing to ask and was like, “Well if it’s what you have to do then it’s what you have to do.” I usually write first-person shorts. I could care less if I make myself look ridiculous, but these characters are like people I owe something to. I mean, yes, I love shorts but this is so completely different. Another thing Michael Cunningham said was during the filming of The Hours, it was written that Juliet Lewis’s character was going to have a gun and shoot herself, and Michael was like, “No, she just wouldn’t do that. This character would never do that.” I’m starting to understand more deeply how important this relationship is. I’ve always had a good relationship with my characters, I love them, I respect them, but this project is pushing me so much harder. So, Michael went to Juliette Lewis and said, “Don’t you think she’d never do that?” And Juliette Lewis said she wouldn’t come to the set unless they rewrote the gun scene a different way. Stopped production of the film and everything. Two points here: don’t be scared to experiment in other forms, and get a celebrity to help. The Hours is a good book, btw. I’m really digging the existential musing/longing in Virginia Woolf’s head.
classic you’ve been meaning to read
I’m aching to read Mary Gaitskill’s collection Don’t Cry. It’s been out for a minute I just haven’t gotten to it yet. Is that a classic? I’ve never read Elektra, can you believe it? It seems like something I would have read in detention hall.
last book to make you laugh out loud
Oh god. For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut by Takashi Hiraide (translated by Sawako Nakayasu) made me laugh hysterically but it was so sad too.
book you borrowed and never returned
In my possession, and I cannot believe I am admitting to this, is the only copy the Boston Public Library had of Murakami’s book of shorts. I am so sorry, BU freshman. I moved and found it years later, now it’s grown on me. “Barn Burning”, “The Iceman”, these are excellent short stories. I get in fights about his novels being too “targeted at male readers and too wordy-indulgenty” but those shorts are damn something. I should get a copy from the Strand and send the new one over there. Is that a felony? I just got up to see what it’s next to on my shelf. I’ve moved so things are a mess. The Day of the Locust by West and Train by Pete Dexter are the answers.
favorite book from childhood
Eloise at the Plaza. Still drives me wild. Never underestimate a wild daredevil brunette with big hair and a skate key. You go girl, imagine all you want. Actually, I also simultaneously think it’s one of the saddest books of all time. I mean, she was like, alone. I had an ex-boyfriend who felt she had some kind of illness. Dumped him.
most treasured book in your collection
My mom did a semester at a community college in the Bronx when she was 18. It was actually this huge honor a few years ago when I got to go back to this exact campus and teach literacy classes to kids who were failing out on Saturdays. I cried on the way every morning, true story. So my mom is quite possibly one of the most talented minds of all time, but she’s just not an academic, not her thing. Some people like cheese, I hate cheese. So for her semester of school, this was 1970 in the Bronx where she’s from, she bought herself a paperback copy of Webster’s Dictionary. It’s on my desk right now. I never keep it less than a desktop away, because I don’t know everything and sometimes need to look things up in it.
secret crush on a writer or literary character
That Blake Butler. He knows how I feel about this. I harass the shit out of him every chance I get. Ghost with the most, no doubt. I’m sure there’s a fan club somewhere. I’m sure half our contemporaries are secretly seethingly jealous of him. He’s smart but he’s got this Southern thing about him, whoooboy. He’s a good boy, it’s sweet. One time, we had this massive argument about David Foster Wallace, he was so pissed at me he had to excuse himself from the room. So we’re in a cab on the way to another ball of wax, and I have to have the cabbie pull over because I’m going to return the gin and tonics I’d been drinking all night back into the world, and it’s the dead of winter (and by the way I ruined my totally rad dress) so Blake jumps out of the cab and rubs my back. We’re standing in like six inches of slush its three in the morning, all of this after we’d had this major blow-out argument, and I look up at him through freezing tears and puke, and the face he’s making isn’t “I’m so pissed at you about earlier” or “what is this, high school?” The face he’s making is “I know, kiddo. I know.” I think this is a part of why people love him. That was like three minutes without me harassing him, too long. Attn Blake: HJ?
book you’ve planted on a coffee table to impress someone
I love this question! It’s more like a “I want to share this book with everyone who sits on my couch” than an impress someone thing. It’s impossible for me to be impressive. Spend an hour with me I guarantee you’ll be annoyed and/or disappointed. I’ve accepted it. Recently, I overheard this guy ask another guy, “Have you read my book?” Think about that for a second. My roommates could be like Q: “Hey Nicolle, those cookies you forgot about in the oven that set on fire are still in the oven.” I’ll be like, “Have you read my book?” Q: “How do you feel about this whole Iranian election?” “Have you read my book?” Q: “Ma’am that will be twenty dollars for the groceries.” “Have you read my book?” Q: “We’re here, you can get off the bus now” “Have you read my book?” I actually adore art books a great deal. Robert Bergman who has portraits of people, a few are in MoMa, so my boss gave me a book of his. That was alright for conversation, people like that one. I have a manual on do-it-yourself electrical wiring which is a hard cover and nice on a coffee table, and on top of it The Collected Stories of Mark Twain, always Twain. Then there’s a rotating list. I had the graphic novel The Awake Field on there for a while, have you seen it? It’s meta. I bet if I put it in between the electrical wiring book and the Twain it'll make the lights flicker.
if you could subscribe to only one literary journal
I love like probably 100 of them. I owe a lot of things to a lot of literary journals, like, you’ll see something in one and go, “Holy crap, you can do that?” literary journals are some of the best teachers we have. It’s not only that, there’s this actual friendship and mentorship chain of support that exists too. People who give feedback, all of these people are generous with their hearts and time, who I owe a debt of crap too. I love them a lot. They’re sort of like family, that I would sleep with, if they didn’t have hotter wives than me, who would probably beat me up. It’s like an army of good people shooting rainbows as snot rockets. They work their asses off for literature because they love it. There’s like no money in journal publishing realistically. As a fan there’s this "want to use the work as a blanket and roll around" side, and as a writer there’s this "these people will work with you" side.
best thing you’ve read online recently
Brian Foley in Front Porch 11, which is the Texas State MFA program’s journal. There’s this line at the end of the poem that’s about this guy shining a flashlight down an alley.
And shows what really stands
In your place when you leave
most anticipated upcoming release
Speaking of Bolaño, The Skating Rink is closer to The Savage Detectives and coming out soon. I know it’s passé to love Bolaño now, but I don’t care, I liked it anyway. Not as much as 2666 but still. Somebody told me “he speaks to mediocre readers” recently. That hurt my feelings. You know I heard Nicolle Elizabeth has a chapbook forthcoming on Paper Hero Press called Threadbare Von Barren. I might check it out. Cough.
recommended reading list:
Theme Stuff I Just Got Into This Year
Everybody has to read Three Cities of Water by Raúl Zurita. He was Bolaño’s nemesis, you know. At the end of Nazi Literature in the Americas, the guy Bolaño was hating on so much (the General) was supposed to be Zurita. Some people actually say that he ripped Zurita off a ton. They loathed each other. There’s this legend that Zurita had written a poem Bolaño was jealous of, so in the 70s Bolaño had it sky-written from a plane over New York City with the credit given to himself for the poem. How hysterical is that? True story. He looks sort of like Castro, or a wizard. I think he teaches at Tufts and that he’s banned from most countries for being so political. I mean the books are banned but he is too, as a human, which I love. It’s so glamorous to be banned from an entire country for being loud. Anyway, so he was reading at NYU this year and I was taking notes and I wrote down the sentences, “I sang with my mouth sewn shut. In the distance, the ocean.” And I couldn’t figure out which Zurita poem it was from. It drove me crazy. I called half the staff of BOMB. I emailed ten translators. Nobody knew. Turns out, I wrote those sentences, while listening to Zurita. Read Zurita. He’s damn inspiring. Read the collected stories of Paul Bowles, read the latest Jorie Graham.