Piper J. Daniels (she/ her) is a Michigan native and queer intersectional feminist currently living in the American Southwest. She received a BA from Columbia College Chicago and an MFA from University of Washington. Her debut essay collection, Ladies Lazarus, won the Tarpaulin Sky Book Award, was longlisted for the PEN Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award For the Art of the Essay, and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in LGBTQ Nonfiction. Entropy named Ladies Lazarus one of their favorite books of 2018. Daniels’s work appears in Hotel Amerika, The Rumpus, Tarpaulin Sky, Entropy, Longreads, and elsewhere. She works as a full-time writer and manuscript consultant to the curious and the brave.
Throughout literary history, the notion of story has been communicated through linear narrative carried to fruition by a traditional arc. Contemporary hybrid texts reject the idea that this formula is necessary to organize story and communicate meaning. When linear narrative is stripped away, what holds the story together? In this session, we'll explore the universality of the body and its sensory perceptions as an organizational mechanism to organize story and orient and impact the reader.
As Leslie Feinberg said, “Gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught.” As writers and readers, how do we engage with writing as the queer practice of possibility, imagining, and un/remaking the world? Listen to panelists as they discuss questions of creation, the queerness of writing, and the way queerness subverts the known and expected, changing the literary landscape itself.
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Mother’s eyes are different colors, one brown, one green: heterochromia iridum. It is rumored that with such eyes, a person is able to simultaneously perceive two separate planes of being. I moved two thousand miles away from the town where I was born, but return each time Mother goes missing.
What I learned from Mother—the world is full of secret haunts. Places where people go to hide and, in the process, become hidden things. One such place is City 40, a closed city constructed around Mayak, the birthplace of the Soviet Union’s foremost thermonuclear warhead plant. When those recruited to Mayak moved to City 40 with their families, the border was sealed for eight years, leaving those on the outside to believe their loved ones were dead or disappeared.
On nights Mother goes missing, Father, Sister, and I part the marsh, or else move like dull blades through the woods’ terrifying sameness. I leave secret notes in the limbs of sugar maples and evergreens. Please Mother, make yourself known to me. With Mother, love’s an animal trap. Catch and release...
NK: Can you discuss the process of making the book—which essays came first and last?
PJD: The driving force of the book was the first essay “Sirens,” which took me ten years to get right. I began it as a suicide letter. I really wanted to advocate for the reasons people kill themselves—which sounds a bit crazy, but that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to explain so that people would understand why it’s not a selfish thing to do and why I was choosing to do it. As I wrote the book, I sort of talked myself out of killing myself. [“Sirens”] set the tone for the book and was the reason why I thought I had anything I could offer anyone else. And it went from there.
Lady Lazarus languages with a biblical, occultic, lyrical, journalistic syntax; Daniels writes about manic breaks, suicidal attempts, growing up churched, the murder of two girls near to her hometown, rape culture, toxic masculinity, and the body sickness that comes from low dosages of self-contempt daily. Daniels isn’t afraid to disobey the expectations of standard paragraphs; she employs paratactic arrangements that require the reader to lean into that nothingness occupied by asterisks, to enter one’s body as the conjunctive meat.