Kate Angus’ story, “My Catalog of Failures,” appears in Vol. 33.1 of The Southeast Review. Purchase the issue here.
Tell us about “My Catalog of Failures.” What inspired it?
In part, what inspired “My Catalog of Failures” was the collapse of a friendship, one close to my heart and difficult to categorize, and how that forced me to come to a larger reckoning with my life. That inventory of What I’d Wanted and Who I Thought I Was versus the actual truth of things was painful, although the clarity I found was ultimately very useful. I realized I’d been mired in a fairly serious depression; this essay was how I began to write my way out of it. But I was motivated by aesthetics just as much as situation. I wanted to write an essay that functioned like a poem—relying on scraps of imagery and isolated moments—but that still told a story.
What are you reading right now, or what have you read most recently?
I’m not a monogamist when it comes to reading so I’m actually in the middle of a few different books. Currently, I’m reading Samantha Harvey’s novel Dear Thief, which is written as a beautiful long unfolding letter, and Erin Belieu’s latest book of poetry, Slant Six, which is gorgeous and sharp and darkly funny. I’m also jumping around between three essay collections: Eula Bliss’s Notes from No Man’s Land, Michelle Orange’s This Is Running for Your Life and Charles D’Ambrosio’s Loitering—all of which are very very good. And I’m reading the latest draft of a book I’m editing for Augury Books, the press I founded and co-run—it’s a memoir by the poet Randall Horton about the drug trade and incarceration, but it’s also about how we are shaped by race in America, and the traps set for us by society and by our own minds. And it’s a love story too—love for the way language can save us. Randall is a beautiful thoughtful writer and I’m really enjoying helping him shape this book. The working title is Hook and it should be out by this summer.
Where do you turn for inspiration? (A writer, another piece of writing, a place?)
I’m lucky to have friends whose work and conversations always inspire me. The rest of the crew at Augury inspires me—my co-editor Kimberly, our assistant editor Nick, our authors and our interns. There are writers whose work I return to frequently—among them, Richard Siken, Mary Ruefle, Frank O’Hara, Terrance Hayes, James Schuyler, Nabokov, and Kelly Link. I also often go to books of world folktales or mythology—give me a copy of the Norse Eddas or the Kalevala or illustrations of basilisks or lore about mandrake roots and I’ll disappear for hours. And reading literary journals always helps—whenever I feel stuck in a rut or fallow, I’ll leaf through whatever journals I have on hand and I always find at least new writer who is doing something amazing that makes me think, “Oh! I want to try this.”
Do you have a writing routine? If so, what does it entail?
My most consistent writing routine for the past year has been participating in The Grind, an online writing community where you have to email a draft of new work to your group by midnight every day. The daily discipline of The Grind has been a godsend—it’s forced me to get over my paralytic fear of letting people see early drafts and, instead, just do my work.
What do you hope readers come away from your work thinking or feeling?
I hope they fall in love with me; isn’t that what most writers want? Or at least that they understand me or feel understood or are moved in some way by what I’m saying and possibly comforted. It’s hard to be a human—it can be incredibly lonely and confusing sometimes; my hope is for something I’ve written to resonate with someone enough to make them feel less alone or more at ease in the world because we’ve shared a moment of connection.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Don’t let yourself take rejection as a definitive condemnation. I say this as an editor as much as as a fellow writer: there are many reasons why work gets published and talent is only one of them. Luck, timing, connections, the individual aesthetics or interests of one editor, various compromises made among members of an editorial board, someone reading the slush pile has a hangover the day they read your submission or they just had their heart broken by someone who shares your first name or is from your town—you can’t know all the possible reasons why your work isn’t selected. Your job is to keep writing and sending your work out. Be ruthlessly honest with your edits, but then aim for sustained delusional optimism once your manuscript is finished and you’re trying to find it a home.
What essay or book of essays by a fellow author would you recommend to our readers? Why this specific piece/book?
The piece that Tony Kushner wrote for The National Day of Prayer for AIDS in 1994 brings me to tears almost every time I read it (and I reread it at least once or twice a year). The language is so beautiful and urgent that it doesn’t seem 20 years old, even though some of the people in power whose lack of compassion he rails against are no longer in the same positions of power (Guiliani, Bob Dole) or are dead now (Jesse Helms, Cardinal O’Connor). What moves me so much is that it’s the prayer of an almost-believer, someone who wants to have faith but who cannot fathom that a God who made us would be so indifferent. I’m not religious—I’m agnostic at best—and I’m lucky that I haven’t lost any loved one to this particular disease’s scythe, but he articulates what I think almost all of us have asked, at some point, as we grieve our own losses: if You exist, if You truly love us, why don’t you bring back our dead, be more sheltering, pay attention to your suffering creation?
I would also be remiss if I didn’t send readers towards my friend Adam Klein’s beautiful and heartbreaking “Out of view: the unnameable poor in India and Bangladesh” on opendemocracy.net. Adam’s language, his humanity, and his refusal to offer easy platitudes make this essay something that, to steal a line from Mary Ruefle, can “rip the cellophane off the world.”
Kate Angus is an editor at Augury Books and the Creative Writing Advisory Board Member for The Mayapple Center for Arts and Humanities. Her work has previously appeared in Indiana Review, Best New Poets 2010 and 2014, The Awl, The Rumpus, and Verse Daily. She is the recipient of A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Spring 2014 “Orlando” Prize for Creative Nonfiction.