Gleah Powers: Authenticity and the Southwest Sensibility

 
 
 
 

Gleah Powers: Authenticity and the Southwest Sensibility

 

Interviewed by John Gist

Interview Date: March 12, 2015

 

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Photo: Gleah Powers

Gleah Powers’ work has appeared in print and online in KYSO Flash, riverSedge, The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Red Savina Review, Lumina, Souvenir Lit Journal, Prime Mincer, Southwestern American Literature, Prime Number Magazine, Naugatuck River Review, Flatmancrooked and other literary journals. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, a finalist in Split Lip Press’ Turnbuckle Chapbook Contest, recognized in “Notable Stories” in the storySouth Million Writers Award, three times a shortlisted finalist in the Summer Literary Seminars Contest, and has been awarded writing residencies from Vermont Studio Center, Rancho Linda Vista arts community, Starry Night Retreat/Artist Residency and a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. Currently, she is at work on a memoir.

 INTERVIEWER

Your work, in my opinion, comes off as hyper-authentic. What does the word “authentic” mean to you as it applies to literary writing?  

GLEAH POWERS

At one time, in the literary world, there was a category in fiction called “autobiographical fiction.” I don’t hear that term anymore, but most of my work tends to land in that camp. I would also call it the fiction of memory. Maybe it’s the synthesization of real life and fiction, creating new stories from past events and transforming actual people into fictive characters that creates the feeling of authenticity. Today, it seems work is labeled as either fiction or memoir, but I believe there is a whole spectrum in fiction of how much material is autobiographical or not. After I complete a piece of writing, I honestly couldn’t tell you for certain what aspects are real and what I made up. For me, the writing process alchemically fuses these two things together.

INTERVIEWER

Your story Abortos, published in RSR 1.2, takes place in the borderlands of the Desert Southwest.  There is a spiritual angst in the story that, for me, captures the stark beauty that is the desert, along with the danger that this beauty represents. How does the land feed your storytelling process? Do you see the environment as a living character or does it serve as a stage for the human drama to unfold?

GLEAH POWERS

When I was growing up in Phoenix, I couldn’t wait to leave. I thought the people and the city were backwards, behind the times, like a cow town. I wanted the excitement of Los Angeles or New York.  I’ve lived in both these places and other cities as well. What I didn’t know was how deeply the desert had penetrated me in my younger years, apparently at a cellular level. It seems embedded in me so that when I write or do art (I started as a painter) there is an undeniable, unconscious southwest sensibility that seeps out into all my work.  A quote from my novel, Edna and Luna, where we learn what the character Edna thinks about Luna, sums it up. “Luna reminded her of other people she’d met in the barren dryness of this desert town—strange, stubborn people like the odd-shaped saguaro cactus that seemed to grow strictly out of an insistence to be alive, or the tenacious weeds that pushed through cracked earth, desert floors, rocks, and the Indian caves that she’d read about in Arizona Highways.”

INTERVIEWER

There are controversial elements in some of your work, such as abortion juxtaposed to a main character’s Catholic upbringing in Abortos (as you can see, this story resonates with me to this day). Do you find it a challenge to market stories with a controversial edge to contemporary literary journals?

GLEAH POWERS

Not necessarily, but I did receive a few rejections of “Abortos” that surprised me, especially from women focused journals. What some editors consider controversial or not is pretty much a mystery to me.

INTERVIEWER

In line with the above, the proliferation of online literary journals, it would seem, should open the market to writers who go against mainstream mores. Do you find this to be the case in your experience? Or does the “Politically Correct Syndrome,” as I like to call it, hold sway in the majority of online journals as well?

GLEAH POWERS

Sometimes, I feel I should try to be more controversial. I have a few colleagues who seem to get published more than I do. They write of their experiences with sex work, heroin addiction, bank robbery, living in a harem and similar topics. Occasionally, I wish I had lived their lives, though mine has provided me with enough material for a few lifetimes. What turns me off is pretentious pop culture controversy, which I see in too many stories. Throwing in whatever the hot controversy of the day happens to be comes across as inauthentic.

INTERVIEWER

Many independent literary journals, online especially, do not last long before dropping off the scene. A few of them, however, in my view, publish the very best in contemporary literature. Do you continue to submit to start-ups as you did with RSR, or do you wait for independent publications to prove their mettle over a space of time before submitting?

GLEAH POWERS

 My work has been published in two journals I really liked and they are now defunct. I’m disappointed because it’s my understanding that that work is considered published and cannot be submitted as unpublished. Therefore, those pieces have basically died. Since this happened, I am more careful about what journals I submit to. My general rule is that If they’ve survived for at least a year, I might take a chance.

INTERVIEWER

Do you consider editorial board credentials/publication credits before submitting to a journal? If the journal does not have a masthead or list editors’ names or credentials, are you willing to take a chance with them?  

GLEAH POWERS

It depends. I’ve become very thorough about checking credentials, publication credits and the like, but if I like the website and I resonate with the kind of writing they publish or if it has a southwest sensibility, like Red Savina Review, and I feel my writing will be a good fit, I’ll submit no matter the credentials or length of time the journal has existed.

INTERVIEWER

Do you see any fundamental difference between literary journals produced by universities or colleges and independent literary journals?

GLEAH POWERS

Yes. Since young people run university and college journals, I think their audience is usually in the same age range and they seek younger writers. Independent journals seem more open to a broader group of writers.

INTERVIEWER

Please catch us up on what you have been writing in the past year or so. What have you published? What are you working on now? What are your plans for the future?

GLEAH POWERS

 I recently completed a hybrid chapbook of poems, flash fiction and monologues. I just started sending this out and was named a finalist in Split Lip Press’ Turnbuckle Chapbook contest. Several of the poems in this chapbook, In the Valley of the Sun, have been published. I’ve also been doing some artwork and have started writing a memoir. My new writing website www.gleahpowers.com is just about ready to launch.

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