As a part of the Caucus’s initiative to continue to support and foster a safe and creative writing space – both virtually, and at AWP – where our members can network, meet, and connect, we’ll be once again hosting, for the second year in a row, a booth in the Bookfair at this year’s AWP Conference (Booth #668 with Lambda Literary). Last year, our booth was a great success, and gave conference attendees an opportunity to not only learn more about the Caucus, but to also meet our members through book signings.
This year, the Caucus is proud to welcome LGBTQ Writers Caucus member Kim van Alkemade, author of the New York Times best selling historical fiction novel Orphan #8 (HarperCollins, William Morrow Paperbacks, 2015) for an author signing on Friday, February 10 at 11:00 AM. In anticipation for the signing, our Caucus Vice President, Tiff Ferentini, sat down with Kim to learn more about her involvement and advice for AWP, Orphan #8, writing, and more.
It is interesting to me how LGBTQ people have been situated differently in various historical contexts. I think getting at that is important: what might it have been like to be queer in that specific time and place?
You’ve hosted panels before regarding the process of getting your debut novel, Orphan #8, published. Do you have any advice for queer writers who are trying to debut?
I guess it would the same same advice for any writer: keep at it, keep revising, be patient, be persistent. For queer writers, I might add: be yourself. Don’t second guess yourself.
Queer representation at AWP has been one of the Caucus’s biggest concerns, and every year we encourage our members to brainstorm and submit queer panel ideas. Is there any advice you have for queer writers who are hoping to propose a panel at AWP?
I think panels that are inclusive and focus on a variety of representations work well for AWP. If there’s a specific concern for queer writers, then that should be the focus, but it looks like a lot of the panels now are about the intersections between various identities.
Historical fiction and LGBTQ writers often struggle with being able to authentically and naturally capture a time period that their readers may be unfamiliar with, or crafting a story around a queer character without having the entire story be about the character’s queer identity, but you do such a great job of capturing both in Orphan #8. Do you have any advice for writers who may be struggling with one or the other, or both?
Well, there have always been queer people so situating them in historical fiction doesn’t automatically make the story “about” queer identity. But also, it is interesting to me how LGBTQ people have been situated differently in various historical contexts. I think getting at that is important: what might it have been like to be queer in that specific time and place? I tend to read things from the era–I focus on early 20th century so that isn;t so hard for me. I have on my desk right now an 1918 edition of Havelock Ellis’s Studies in the Psychology of Sex: Sexual Inversion. And then historical studies are also crucial, such as George Chauncey’s Gay New York.
Do you feel the need to define yourself as either a historical fiction or LGBTQ writer? How has your identity influenced your writing?
I am a historical fiction writer whose characters are gay or lesbian. It’s what I wanted to read growing up, it’s what I want to read today, and it’s my project as a writer to situate queer people in the historical past because it is true and because we are underrepresented. I don’t think a writer needs to identify as LGBTQ to write convincing queer characters, and I don’t think queer writers should feel compelled to focus on queer characters in their writing, but for me my writing and my identity do intersect.
What’s your greatest piece of writing advice?
The best advice I’ve ever gotten about writing has come from Annie Dillard in her book The Writing Life. There are so many great lines in that book but the overall message I take away from it is to be brave.
Kim van Alkemade is the author of the historical fiction novel Orphan #8 (William Morrow, August 4, 2015). Her creative nonfiction essays have appeared in literary journals including Alaska Quarterly Review, CutBank, and So To Speak. Born in New York, NY, she earned a BA in English and History from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and an MA and PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is a Professor in the English Department at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania where she teaches writing. She lives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Don’t miss Kim signing at our booth, Booth #668, on Friday, February 10 at 11:00 AM at #AWP17!