Interview originally published on 1/7/15
Angele Ellis is the author of two books of poetry, Arab on Radar (Six Gallery) and Spared (A Main Street Rag Editors’ Choice Chapbook), and a recipient of a poetry fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Her poetry and prose have recently appeared in American Book Review, Eunoia Review, Stone Highway, Right Hand Pointing, Blast Furnace, and the anthology, Women Write Resistance. She was first runner-up in the 2012 Grey Sparrow Flash Fiction Contest. She lives in Pittsburgh.
ALTERNATING CURRENT: Describe your writing style to someone who’s never read you.
ANGELE ELLIS: I’m a stylistic shapeshifter who works in a number of poetic and prose forms. Everything I write, however, is informed by a good grounding in literature and history (gained from some exceptional teachers and through passionate and omnivorous reading), the journalistic training that helps me to write cleanly, concisely, and grammatically, and the ability to hear the music in words that was my mother’s early gift to me. She was a champion reciter of poetry and a natural actress.
How would The New York Times categorize your writing?
I hope that if The New York Times reviews my novel, Desert Storms (currently in progress), it places it in the tradition of contemporary Arab-American novels by such authors as Diana Abu-Jaber, Rabih Alameddine, Randa Jarrar, Alicia Erian, Mohja Kahf, and Joseph Geha, which combine serious themes and events with wit and humor, and provide fresh perspectives on American life.
What was the catalyst that made you start writing?
As an early reader who had the benefit of hearing poetry from the cradle, it seemed natural for me to write as a child — the beginnings of elaborate fairy tales, poems for all occasions. I remember the thrill when my father told me that “A Manager’s Farewell,” a poem I wrote for him, got a big hand at his goodbye party. (I was ten.) For love, and sometimes money, I’ve never stopped writing.
Your favorite —
Whisk(e)y: John Jameson’s, in honor of several dear Irish friends
Wild animal: American crow
Waffle topping: Grade A maple syrup
Poem: Five at the top: “My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun” (Emily Dickinson); “Daddy” (Sylvia Plath); “The Lost Son” (Theodore Roethke); “To Elsie” (William Carlos Williams); “Losses” (Randall Jarrell)
Scientist or inventor: Madame Curie, whose life story inspired me when I was a little girl
Broadway musical: Wicked
Badass getaway vehicle: Cloak of invisibility
Movie to watch alone: Pride and Prejudice (the 1995 BBC version)
Quote: “The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: ‘What are you going through?’” — Simone Weil
Tell us about your favorite books or authors.
As a child: any folk or fairy tale (bow to the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen), biographies of famous women, classic children’s literature (Frances Hodgson Burnett, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott), and Shakespeare. As a teenager: modernist poetry, Victorian novels (the Brontë sisters, Dickens, George Eliot), the plays of Anton Chekhov. As a college student and young woman: feminist writers, including Kate Chopin, Zora Neale Hurston, Doris Lessing, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Marge Piercy, Judy Grahn, Adrienne Rich. Today: the great science fiction/speculative fiction writers, including Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Jack Finney, Samuel R. Delany, Octavia E. Butler, Ursula Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, Frank Herbert.
If you could witness or participate in any historical event or time period, what would it be?
I would have my own TARDIS (a la Doctor Who), and roam the earth’s history — and that of the universe — at will.
Weapon of choice:
The perfect soundtrack to your writing:
Mary Margaret O’Hara, Miss America.
Which literary figure, dead or alive, would you want to —
Take tea with: Emily Dickinson
Arm wrestle: Alexander Pope (because I might have a chance of winning)
Ice skate with: Henry David Thoreau (kind, and a good enough skater to hold me up)
Drink under the table: Octavia E. Butler (just to sit down with her)
Get a blurb from: Alice Walker
Beat in a duel of wits: Oscar Wilde
Have on your side in the apocalypse: Ursula Le Guin
Write your next book for you: Hilary Mantel
The one thing in your writing routine you couldn’t live without:
Earl Grey tea.
Set the perfect scene for you to write your next masterpiece.
I’m in residence at a seaside writer’s retreat with a beautiful view of the ocean, gourmet meals, and fine teas delivered to my door, a computer that never crashes, and a laser printer with an unending supply of … whatever my heart desires.
When writing makes you rich, you will …
… establish a foundation to help fledgling writers, give to many worthy causes, travel extensively, and buy a cottage by the sea.