Press 53 is proud to kick off the week with Kate Hill Cantrill, whose debut collection of short stories, Walk Back from Monkey School, is the perfect complement to a warm cup of black coffee and a set of chipped-polish fingernails. Kate told us some pretty interesting stuff about reading, writing, and puppets.
P53: What have you done with your rejection letters (if you’ve ever received any)?
KHC: I once saved them and planned on shredding them and making them into cascarones—those confetti filled eggs—so I could smash them to celebrate my first book publication. Now they are pretty much all digital rejections and my printer doesn’t work so I simply delete them into the ether.
P53: Drink of choice?
KHC: I’m pretty fond of water. Or, at least, I’m trying to learn to be pretty fond of water. My mother drinks hot water before she goes to bed—no tea or lemon or anything—just hot water. I’m looking forward to the day when drinking a cup of hot water at night really fulfills me. When I get stressed out about life and love and friends and bills and the future I’ll be like: I totally need a freaking cup of hot water to calm me the hell down.
P53: What’s the one book you simply could not live without?
KHC: Well you say “could” like I’m already gone! Since I tend to loan my desperately favorite ones out, I tend to live without them (because, as we know, no one ever returns books), but I know they are stored somewhere deep within my skin and bones: Salinger’s Nine Stories; Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John and At The Bottom of the River; Amy Hempel’s Tumble Home and The Dog of the Marriage; John Edgar Wideman’s Two Cities; Lewis “Buddy” Nordan’s Music of the Swamp and Wolf Whistle; Lydia Davis’ Break it Down; Elizabeth Bishop’s collected poems and Exchanging Hats, William Carlos Williams’ collected poems; Carol Shields’ Unless; Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son; Larry Brown’s On Fire; Flannery O’Conner’s A Good Man Is Hard To Find; Vonnegut’s Welcome To The Monkey House and Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five; Henri Charriere’s Pappillon and…I need to stop now.
Oh shoot! I just realized you asked about the ONE book. That’s just cruel! I’ve tried five times to choose it and I keep erasing it. The best I can think of is that I read The Idiot when I was thirteen years old, depressed because my parents were splitting up and my older sister said I was becoming a loser because I was watching too much T.V. (actually the best advice I have EVER been given!) and I went to the crazy bookshelves downstairs by the fireplace and picked out Dostoevsky’s The Idiot because I mixed it up with the movie, The Jerk, and just started reading. It wasn’t as funny as The Jerk. I kept waiting for that line about the thermos!
P53: What initially drew you to short fiction?
KHC: I think it’s because of my connection with the visual arts (my mother is a sculptor and I was pretty much born with a crayon and a carving tool in my hand), and I remember going to museums and shows at a very young age and she taught me how I could learn to “read” form and color and composition—that there are different languages out there that tell stories and I just needed to find the one that really worked for me if I wanted to explore creativity more. I was always drawn to words and how they can be “read” in so many different ways when puzzled together and messed with, so I started to write poems, but wanted to tell full stories and I’m just not good with line-breaks, so tried to make the line breaks happen with the rhythms of the sentence instead of the actual break. I don’t know—perhaps that is bull-crap. Perhaps I should just say that a really good short story has always made me happy.
P53: What was the last movie you saw in the theater?
KHC: In the theater? Are you joshing me? I live in Brooklyn! Do you know how much that costs? I think I even bought some Raisinets. It was Shutter Island. I walked home semi-zombie-like. It was pretty intense. Oh wait oh wait! I’m a liar! I saw Moonrise Kingdom recently! Super great, but I’m sorry, that title is impossible to remember!!! Rushmore? Easy to remember. The Graduate? Easy to remember. Ice Storm? Easy to remember. Grease…well, you get the point.
Three Facts About Kate:
1) If I paint my nails I always chip them because I don’t like perfectly coiffed anything. Including stainless steel appliances.
2) I really love puppets and I really think that they can save the world. This is not a joke. Puppetry runs in my family and it is not a crime.
3) I will never ever purchase a pet—I will always adopt. I have had the best animal buddy-guys in the world and they were always rescued or adopted.