Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future.
Name: Anna Leahy
Title of Piece Published in Sweet: “My Grandmother’s Body”
Anna lives in Southern California, where she directs the MFA in Creative Writing program at Chapman University. You can learn more about Anna by visiting her website.
What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?
When my poem appeared in Sweet, I was working on several book projects that panned out over the next few years—publications like Sweet contributed to my momentum. I’m especially happy to be publishing nonfiction regularly now in addition to poetry. My nonfiction book Tumor is part of the Object Lessons series from Bloomsbury, and my essays have won contests at the Los Angeles Review, Ninth Letter, and Dogwood—in the last few years. Plus, my second full-length poetry collection, Aperture, was published by Shearsman Books a couple of years ago. I’m now moving back and forth between poetry and nonfiction, and I feel as if each teaches me about the other mode of thinking and writing.
Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about?
I continue to work on new essays, and I’m in the midst or revising—again—a poetry book manuscript. I’m also the editor of the international journal TAB, which focuses on poetry and poetics. The Creative Director is Claudine Jaenichen, an information designer who works on tsunami evacuation for coastal cities. We’re both interested in the ways medium and materiality shape the reading experience, so we make decisions about design and content in tandem, and we’re looking now especially at accessibility and design in poetry publications. I’m excited about the new website we’re developing, which uses an accessibility-ready design template and will have a set of more accessible, downloadable PDF files in the archives. For the 2020 print issue in January, we’ve given a lot of thought to readability and visual cues. It’s exciting to re-envision something I’ve built.
Who is your favorite author?
I’m hesitant about picking favorite poets, but I return to Lucille Clifton, Sylvia Plath, and Anna Swir. Anya Silver is becoming one of my return-to poets. I find the work of a lot of poets whose first books I’ve read in the last couple of years energizing too.
What is your favorite poem/essay/book?
I don’t think favorite is the right word for my reading habits. I consider poems, essays, books as inhabitants in my reading-writing life, and each has its own role, complementing, instead of competing with, others. As a writer, I appreciate poems and essays from perspectives and voices different than my own. Probably the first essay that really wowed me and made me think about how essays work was Richard Selzer’s “How to Build a Balcony,” but I didn’t start writing essays until years and years after reading it. Some of my own early essays resulted from—were instigated by? inspired by? responses to?—reading specific pieces by Joan Didion (one about John Wayne, another about weddings in Las Vegas, a why-I-write essay). Her work made me want to write or pointed me toward something I had to say, but I don’t think my voice or experience is much like hers. Eula Biss, Anne Boyer, Beth Ann Fennelly, Sarah Manguso, and Paisley Rekdal are nonfiction writers—who are also poets—whose work I admire a lot, along with nonfiction writers like Jill Christman, Roxane Gay, Esmé Weijun Wang—I could go on.
What inspires you to write?
Reading. Writing. The words immersion and merge have the same ancestors, and I like the idea that immersing myself in reading and writing allows reading and writing to merge somehow. Really, I’m more about what invites writing than being inspired. Of course, all sorts of evidence points to habit and ritual—regular time at the writing desk—as good for the writing life. That’s not to say that I write every day but that writing fuels more writing and that regularity fosters connections. I’m off to a writing residency soon, and that kind of binge-writing feels amazing to me.
What is your favorite sweet?
Sugar can make me feel rundown, so I don’t indulge in sweets very often, but I admit that I like chocolate a lot. When I was a kid, my mom came across a recipe in a magazine for a ring puff pastry filled with thick chocolate mouse and topped with dark chocolate—she’d make it for holidays, and I’d have a piece for breakfast the next morning too. More recently, my sister introduced me to the chocolate cake at Smith & Wollensky—one piece is enough for the whole table, and it seems to be our new holiday tradition that’s reminiscent of my mom’s chocolate ring-thing.
Thank you, Anna, for taking the time to reconnect with us. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!