“People seem to want to invite writers into their lives, and we love it. We’re story-sponges,” says poet and memoirist Jade Sylvan on why she loves being a writer.
Jade Sylvan is an award-winning performer, songwriter, actor, slam poet, and nonfiction writer who currently resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Sylvan is the author of two novels, Backstage at the Caribou (2009) and TEN: The Novel (2013) and a book of poetry titled The Spark Singer (2009), and most recently her memoir, Kissing Oscar Wilde (2013). She was the recipient of the Bayou Poetry Prize in 2011 and a finalist in the Write Bloody Book Competition in 2012.
Sylvan will read at Frequency North on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 7:30p.m. in the Standish Dining Rooms in the Events and Athletics Center. This event is free and open to the public. I had the chance to talk with Jade Sylvan over email about Oscar Wilde, her thoughts on writing memoir, and her current projects.
Your most recent book, a memoir titled Kissing Oscar Wilde, was released in early October. What inspired you to write this book, and how did it evolve from your original ideas?
I submitted some of my poems to the Write Bloody book competition in 2012. I wound up being a finalist, which meant I had to assemble a manuscript of forty poems in about three weeks to submit for consideration. I did not win the competition, but the day the results were posted, Derrick Brown emailed me and said that everyone loved my autobiographical prose poems about being in France. He said Write Bloody wanted to start publishing more prose work, and asked if I had any more of these types of pieces, because he’d be interested in publishing a novel-like memoir. I did not, but his question made me realize that I’d actually been writing this book in my head for years, so I told him yes, and spent the next several months writing the first draft.
Do you find it difficult to write about your own life?
I used to. In fact, I used to say I never wanted to write about my own life, that people who write about their own life are self-absorbed and lack imagination. Then when I hit my late twenties and came out as queer, suddenly all I wanted to write about was my own life. My narrative now understands my earlier reaction against personal narrative was part of my internalized queer shame. But who knows. I may have just changed my mind.
Did you face any unexpected challenges in writing this book?
I think but biggest challenge with this was trying to be as honest as possible. It’s hard to write about myself in the sense that I have to describe painful or embarrassing things sometimes. I tried so hard with this book to just write what happened and hope readers would forgive me for my stupidity and desires.
As an Oscar Wilde fan, I have been dying to ask: What is the significance of this title?
Oscar Wilde’s grave was covered in lipstick kisses from fans from the 1990s until 2011, when the French government washed them all off and surrounded the grave in a glass barrier. I thought this was utterly poetically tragic, so on tour I vowed to find the grave and return a lipstick kiss on it. Also, it’s about romance, queerness, artistness, love, and death. You know, all the best stuff.
The book tour for Kissing Oscar Wilde begins this December and continues on into next year. What are you most looking forward to about travelling and promoting your book?
My favorite part of touring as a poet and writer is the vastly different worlds you get to experience. People invite us in and we absorb their stories and carry them with us until we release them into the world in a new form. It’s a perfect symbiosis.
You have published books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Would you say you prefer writing one genre over the others?
Not exactly, but I do go in waves. I go through periods where I’m only interested in writing nonfiction, or poetry, or sci-fi short stories. But I don’t think I prefer one genre over another. I identify mostly as a poet and a novelist, though I’ve been writing quite a few short stories, essays, screenplays, and other non-poetry and non-novels lately. Really, I just think if it all as writing, and the form I want to write is whatever is best going to serve the particular work’s intention.
Do you have any traditions or rituals that you must do when you sit down to write?
I wish I did, but I don’t. I trained myself a while ago to just write, no matter what’s going on. Sometimes It’s a good writing day and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it feels like some otherworldly mystical voice is dictating the words and sometimes I feel like a sentence mechanic. I write anyway.
I read on your website that have been writing for and acting in a film called TEN (2014). Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
I’m working on a documentary and live performance about the mythology of the Beatles and Rock & Roll, and a comic called Pitchblende, which is about Marie Curie and Nikola Tesla teaming up to fight Aleister Crowley and the Order of the Golden Dawn.
Do you know what you will be reading for Frequency North in January?
I’ll be reading from Kissing Oscar Wilde. That’s all I know.
When you are not writing or acting, how do you like to spend your time?
I produce a lot of shows around Cambridge, and I’m also a yoga teacher. I’m kind of a workaholic, and don’t stop for much. The only art I consume with regularity is alternative burlesque and other variety-type shows here in Cambridge. I also enjoy eating good food, drinking good beer and whiskey, the beach, the mountains, the forest, good conversation, and cuddling.
Do you have any final words of advice for aspiring writers?
Please make me believe.