Featured Nonfiction Writer: An Interview with Christen Noel Kauffman
Hello, flock! We're so excited to have you join us for our interview with featured nonfiction writer for issue #2, Christen Noel Kauffman, whose piece you can read here! Crocodiles, motherhood, and hybrid forms! Take a seat, we're going on a journey.
Ashely Adams: Your essay really took me on an emotional whirlwind. As I was reading, I felt the joy, compassion, pain, and urge for survival that surrounds the experience of both womanhood and motherhood. What drives you to explore these facets of identity? How do you explore the complicated feelings inherent in these societal roles?
Christen Noel Kauffman: First, thank you for giving this little flash essay a home and so much love! I think womanhood has always been at the forefront of what I write about, especially in nonfiction, but the birth of my daughters kind of reframed and intensified my drive to explore what it means to be a woman at this particular time in history. I think about how my perceptions of womanhood, and the societal implications of varying beliefs about womanhood, will influence and interact with my daughter’s own developing sense of what it means to be female, and that terrifies me. And in the current climate, it feels necessary to explore concepts of survival in terms of womanhood and motherhood, to look at how we navigate social pressures and move beyond centuries of not having ownership of our bodies and a place at the table to make decisions that affect us. For me, it’s often easier to come at these things through science and nature. This drive though is most certainly my girls. I am often writing for them as much as I am myself.
AA: I absolutely loved the Philippine Crocodile, but I am curious, what inspired you to write about them? Why such tenderness for a reptile?
CNF: I knew I wanted to write about an animal on the brink of extinction, and the Philippine Crocodile is the most endangered crocodile with only around 100 adults remaining in the wild. I tend to have a lot of love for the unlovable species – I’ve always been fascinated with reptiles of all kinds. Beyond my own interest, I wanted to see if I could get a reader to care about something she/he may not normally care for, while also highlighting the role of women and mothers. Imagine being the last of your species! What must that feel like?
AA: You manage to do an incredible amount of work in a short piece. Can you tell us a little bit more about your experience writing in this style (or in other hybrid/lyrical forms)?
CNF: Thank you! I began writing as a poet and didn’t discover a love for the essay until the end of my MFA. Since then, I’ve kind of found my writer home somewhere in between. My essays tend to be very lyrical and hover over the line between poetry and essay (if you subscribe to the idea that there must be a line ha!). Length, in many ways, is born from necessity. I have a 9 month old and a 3 year old, so I only have short bits of time I can dedicate to writing. It was pretty organic for me to exclusively begin writing flash nonfiction. I like the satisfaction of being able to complete a draft in one or two sittings. An unfinished essay gives me a lot of anxiety and can feel very consuming. Flash nonfiction allows me to complete a draft and then set it aside to be mom. I recently finished a chapbook, one that I began writing in these short bursts after my second daughter was born, and it’s a hybrid collection of poems and flash nonfiction.
AA: What are you reading right now?
CNF: Books I’ve either read recently or am currently reading are: The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang, When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams, All the Fierce Tethers by Lia Purpura, I’m Just Getting to the Disturbing Part by Steven Church, and Dear Delinquent by Ann Townsend.
AA: And the required Lammergeier question: favorite bone?