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INTERVIEW WITH GESSY ALVAREZ
Interviewed by Ariana Mackey


So I have to ask and I'm sure you get this a lot but where did you get the name for your literary website, Digging Through the Fat?

Thirteen years ago, I quit my job as a database administrator and wrote a short story. I wrote a bad short story loaded with melodrama and cliches. I failed on my first attempt at writing fiction. I didn't quit-never could pass up on a challenge- but I took a few steps back. Went back to college, took a couple of writing workshops, met other people interested in writing, and I stopped relying on assumptions.

The thing is we presume to make sense of the world. It's easier to surmise than to confront our fears and insecurities. We assume that this person with a MFA from Columbia University must be an intellectual and this Latina woman must have lived a rough life and this woman with curly hair must be wild and unpredictable. We speculate and load up our lives with superfluous details, with fat. My earlier attempts at writing were loaded with fat. Then I stripped the writing down, and something emerged, something worthwhile.

Our world is bloated with distractions. Meaning has become a malleable commodity. But, I'm a romantic at heart and believe Art is the exception. The website's name, Digging Through the Fat ripping out the heart, is a call for action. What I want from literature and art in general is truth, beauty, and humanity, but artists have to dig through the fat in order to get to these ideals.

Does it get competitive when selecting which pieces to publish on the site?

Quite competitive. In our guidelines we say we are not persnickety about form and we mean it. But we do have word limits. Our first year, the word limit was 300, this year it was 1,200. Writers complained about these limits, but I like rules. I enjoy subverting them.

Fortunately, we've attracted poets and writers who are as subversive as I am. Unfortunately, we only have a limited amount of spots to feature new works. Although, we continue to experiment with word counts, I don't foresee changing the current format of publishing one piece per week. I like showcasing one writer/poet at a time and nurturing an audience for that person.

How do you think your literature has evolved from the beginning?

I don't know if I'm meant to answer this question. I write but I don't analyze what I write. Once something is documented and shared, it's no longer yours. I also live in the moment, in the story I'm writing today. I never think of what I wrote yesterday.

But to extend your question a bit, what I can say is that writing has helped me evolve as a human. I'm not a talker or a nurturer. I'm quite sensitive and analytical. I tend to retreat inside my head, which I consider a weakness in my character. Ironically, writing, which is a solitary act, shoves me out the door and into the fire. It's been my social salvation.

I used to believe that if I locked myself in a room, I would do great things. I don't believe that any more. What I need are people and intimacy. I need to live in the world, work, and experience the heartbreak and joy of life.

One of your earliest poems"A Good Man Deserves a Good Woman" was inspired by Bukowski, is any of your other work inspired by him or anyone else?

I wasn't so much inspired by Bukowski, as pissed off by him. "A Good Man Deserves a Good Woman" is my response to Bukowski's poem" quiet clean girls in gingham dresses." I hate the despondency in his work, and yet I'm like the narrator in his poem who says, "...don't ever bring a whore around,...I'll fall in love with her..." I'm attracted to Bukowski's candor and his rapacious need to lay his cards on the table. Bukowski is a polarizing literary figure - the exact things he explores in his work: alcoholism, sexism, and emotional sadism (to name a few -isms) - are what scholars despise about his work. I think you need a few Bukowski's along with a few Lorca's. You can't have one without the other - our literary landscape would be too barren without them.

I have many writers and poets who inspire me but I'm always careful not to mimic what I admire in their works. This is the one poem where I mimic in the hopes of changing the Bukowski narrative from despondency to hope. Of course my form of hope is elusive because life happens whether you belong to it or not. And that's the thing about Bukowski that I love and hate, there's a redemptive layer missing in his work and he's quite unapologetic about leaving it out.

What is your favorite medium of literature to write through? (magazines, the website, books, etc.)

My experience with book publcation is only in anthologized works, so I've yet to experience a sole book project.

I was an adult with the internet became accessible and have a special affinity for websites and online literary journals. Perhaps it's the democratization of literature that I find most attractive.

The greatest historical tragedy to me is the stratification of education and the social marginalization of the human imagination. The belief that we have to control society, make sure that there is upper, middle, and lower class system because without these categories of people we can not advance as a society, to me, is preposterous. There is a natural stratification that occurs, but for governments, corporations, and institutions to claim that they are not systematically forcing this stratification is a lie. The internet is key in exposing this unfair system.

There's a liberation movement at play, which is dependent on the internet, and it will continue to grow and come to odds with the social systems in place. I'm a humble writer and editor, and a willing participant in this struggle.

Do you have any last comments or thoughts to add?

This is our second year of publishing new works from writers and poets at Digging Through the Fat. We will be publishing 26 short stories from February through August 2015. During our next reading period, which begins May 1st through July 15th, we will exclusively accept flash fiction and poetry submissions. We will publish flash fiction and poetry from September through December.

In January 2016, we will announce an Editor's Choice. We are also working on a print edition of Digging Through the Fat, which we hope to debut during AWP 2016.

Thank you so much for these wonderful questions!

I hear you have a new book that was just released, congratulations! What makes "Red" IV different from the first rendition that was published a couple years before?

(Not sure how to answer this one. "Red" is a micro-fiction not a book. It's collected in a book published by tNY Press (formerly the NewerYork). It hasn't changed since it's first publication on the tNY website.)

 


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