Twice a month, The Rumpus brings your favorite writers directly to your IRL mailbox via our Letters in the Mail program.
December 1 LITM Molly Crabapple
Our next letter in the mail comes from the archive. Artist, journalist, and author Molly Crabapple writes to us from a corner of a world complicated by war and borders. She explores the part-domesticated, part-wild street cats that roam Istanbul’s neighborhoods, and the strange consistencies they reveal amid a rapidly changing world.
Molly Crabapple is an artist and writer based in New York. She is the author of two books, Drawing Blood and Brothers of the Gun (with Marwan Hisham), which was long-listed for a National Book Award in 2018. Her reportage is the 2022 winner of the Bernhard Labor Journalism Award, and has been published in The New York Times, New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and elsewhere. Her art is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art. Her animations have been nominated for three Emmys and won an Edward R. Murrow Award. Currently she is a fellow at the Cullman Center at the New York Public Library researching the history of the Jewish Labor Bund.
December 15 LITM Taylor Byas
Our second December letter in the mail comes from writer Taylor Byas. Taylor Byas is a Black Chicago native currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the 1st place winner of the 2020 Poetry Super Highway, the 2020 Frontier Poetry Award for New Poets Contests, and the 2021 Adrienne Rich Poetry Prize. She is the author of the chapbooks Bloodwarm and Shutter. Her debut full-length, I Done Clicked My Heels Three Times, is out now from Soft Skull Press.
The Rumpus: What books made you a reader? Do you have any recent favorites you’d like to share?
Taylor Byas: It was Charlotte’s Web that made me a reader. I was reading that book in kindergarten, and I don’t remember a lot about that time in my life, but I do remember the childlike wonder that stayed with me after reading it. That was my first time that it registered for me that books were something special, that books could give me something that lived reality couldn’t. So much of my childhood was just me buried in a book, and I can trace it all the way back to Charlotte, Wilber, Templeton, etc.
Some recent favorites: The Trees Witness Everything by Victoria Chang, Black Pastoral by Ariana Benson, Blackouts by Justin Torres, and Have You Been Long Enough at Table by Leslie Sainz.
Rumpus: How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Byas: I shared this during a class visit, but I think there were two different phases of knowing. There’s the less serious knowing, which I only say was less serious because I didn’t yet know what being a writer really entailed. And when I was a child I wanted to be a writer and create art. But then I entered my terrible Tumblr poetry phase…and looking back on that, there’s something about the bravery of putting your work out into the world in that way, especially when it’s bad! But I couldn’t stop, I had this unrelenting impulse to put things out into the world. That hunger is what this career requires. That’s when I really knew.
Rumpus: What’s a piece of good advice or insight you received in a letter or note?
Byas: I got written feedback from a professor on a draft once, and she told me to stop metaphor stacking. I had this writing tic where I wanted to keep adding multiple metaphors to describe one thing, and she finally called me out on it. She said something along the lines of “You have to trust that your first one, or the one you settle on, is going to do enough lifting.” And first of all, she was correct, I was stacking so much. But also, trusting the language I choose was a lesson that I needed at that point in my career. It was something that I really held closely to me as I put together my first book, and thank God for that.
Rumpus: Tell us about your most recent book. How do you hope it resonates with readers?
Byas: I Done Clicked My Heels Three Times is a love letter to Chicago first, and a love letter to myself second. It endeavors to show Chicago as this complicated character that helped to raise me, that both loved me and endangered me in its own ways. But it’s also this story about coming into Black womanhood, and how Chicago followed me along that journey like a shadow or a ghost. It was an attempt to write something that will hopefully be taught in classrooms and that will change how we talk about form with students. It’s an addition to a long lineage of Black women engaging with form and finding ways to break and bend the form and finding ways to inject it with humor and joy. I hope readers leave this book with a better understanding of what/who Chicago is, with a renewed interest in poetic form. More than anything, I hope readers can tell how much fun I was having when I wrote this book.
Rumpus: What is your best/worst/most interesting story that involves the mail/post office/mailbox?
Byas: Fortunately I haven’t had any crazy post office stories! The worst would probably be completely forgetting a corporate holiday but going to the post office and standing there for 10 minutes thinking they just weren’t open yet. Reader, there was a sign right on the door with the corporate holidays listed. I just didn’t have enough sense to look!
Rumpus: Is there a favorite Rumpus piece you’d like to recommend?
Byas: I’m still thinking about Morgan Parker’s poem “‘Lilac Wine’ by Eartha Kitt vs. ‘Lilac Wine’ by Jeff Buckley,” which was published summer of 2022. I’ve been really appreciating shorter poems much more lately, and I find that one sticking with me.