I first met Amy Dupcak at The Book Report Network in 2011, where she was an editorial assistant and I, a marketing assistant. We’d shoot off AOL Instant Messages to one another smirking over our computer screens, and leave simultaneously to take lunch. In the summertime, we’d cross Columbus Circle into Central Park where we’d hunt for a few well-suited, largish stones and then laze on them too long, talking about nothing and everything. New York City offers an endless supply of painful drama about which one can either laugh, cry, or, if you’re lucky, both.
With Amy, that’s easy. She knows how to smile well, and she does it more than most New Yorkers. She doesn’t wear her hurt on her sleeve, either. If you’d only just met her, with her diminutive stature—eminently huggable—and her unguarded, almost impish smile, the dark tenor of many stories in her debut collection Dust might take you by surprise.
Reading them, I found myself transported to the soft, inconsolable grief of youth. I shook hands with the devils who broke my heart and the semi-tortured creatives I’d once longed to grow into. Amy had rolled those characters over in their dusty graves so that I might ogle their confused inner darkness. Knowing her personally, I wasn’t surprised so much as I was intrigued. Reminded of the great distance between one’s interior landscape and one’s exterior, the person versus the persona, I interviewed her in hopes of bridging this gap.
The Rumpus: Your writing can get pretty dark, Amy, and yet you have this easy, sunny disposition about you. If I were to conjure up an image of the author of Dust, I’m not sure you’re what I’d imagine. Do you feel misunderstood on a day-to-day basis?
Amy Dupcak: I’ve always felt misunderstood, though perhaps all writers do to some extent. I completely agree with you about my amiable disposition. I’m eager to create magical moments with friends and to ensure that others feel comfortable and appreciated. But I also speed-walk through the city in my busted black Docs blasting Nine Inch Nails, and I prefer not to smile or engage with anyone along the way. I consider myself to be cynical, introverted, and anti-establishment, which is reflected throughout Dust.
Rumpus: Would you say that you are happy? Does your persona ever feel false?
Dupcak: The chronic migraines I’ve been battling for the past fifteen years often drain my attempts to feel happy or energized, and there were periods in my life, particularly in my early twenties, when I was pretty depressed and angry at myself. But fortunately, I’ve become happier and happier (headaches aside) as I’ve gotten older, and I can safely say that I’m happy today. When I turned thirty, I decided I was done taking shit from anyone (especially men), and I’ve learned to make smarter decisions and to stand up for what I deserve. We all embody multitudes, and as I continue to unify the disparate parts of myself—the Daria with the Punky Brewster—I can actively create a multidimensional persona that expresses my truest self.
Rumpus: One of my favorite things about you is your ability to approach life with a sort of sardonic elation, a characteristic I’ve never seen in anyone else. You probably have a hundred different smiles! Do you feel that you process the world’s extremes differently than others?
Dupcak: Aw, thank you! I take pleasure in small things, like fireflies, fireworks, and my favorite colors. I have a photographic memory and notice small details, sometimes sacrificing the larger picture in the process. I tend to look at things symbolically, and I give weight to dates and coincidences that feel important.
In social environments, I’m prone to feeling awkward, anxious, or distracted. Though I’ve spent my life attending concerts, loud volumes and bright lights often overwhelm me. I find myself observing things from an outsider’s perspective, and I tend to analyze and catalogue these observations, which is a great tool for writing but limits my ability to have fun in the moment. I’ll look around and realize that plenty of other people are having a good time and wonder why I’m incapable of enjoying the same experiences (maybe it’s because I don’t drink). The same is true when consuming most mainstream media. Almost instantly, I see through its tropes, stereotypes, and entertainment value, which makes me wonder why other people are eating it up. To put it simply, I’m a critical thinker, and I don’t take things at face value.
Rumpus: For my last question, I’d like to switch gears slightly and discuss the role subculture plays on identity in some of your stories. An artist goes to extremes for his art, ignorant of his madness, and a boy addicted to Batman turns desperately heroic in a world that doesn’t seem to need him. Put simply, they “walk the walk.” Do you believe in the power of subculture and do you think the world needs more of these people? Are you one of these undercover extremes, or do you wish you were?
Dupcak: I’m enamored with the role subculture plays in personal identity. Dust explores the elements and rituals of a few subcultures, as well as the influence of role models, from Batman to Abbie Hoffman. Growing up, I didn’t feel a strong allegiance to my hometown, heritage, American customs, or religious ideology. Instead, I carved out my identity based on musical and cultural obsessions. Born in 1984, I missed grunge’s heyday by a handful of years, but that didn’t stop me from embracing it as my own.
So yes, I strongly believe in the power of subcultural communities, but more so authentically representing oneself and not just following the latest trends. Sometimes I feel like I’m “undercover” because I don’t always adopt a style that visibly sets me apart from the mainstream to represent my subcultural ties. I love people who “walk the walk” and reject social norms without emphasizing their self-image. Authenticity is crucial to me, and spending hours at a salon to achieve the perfect green Mohawk, or spending hundreds of dollars on pre-torn jeans and pre-patched jackets, won’t get you any closer to being punk in my book.
Author photograph © Joel Remland.