3.4.07: ANGELA PNEUMAN & ANYA ULINICH
3.4.07: KGB welcomed two very talented writers - Angela Pneuman and Anya Ulinich. They read to an excited audience who hung on their every funny, wise and heartbreaking word.
Angela Pneuman is a recent Stegner Fellow in fiction at Stanford University. She lives in Albany where she is a Presidential Fellow at SUNY Albany. She read from the title piece from her recent collection Home Remedies.
Anya Ulinich was seventeen when her family left Moscow and immigrated to the United States. She attended the Art Institute of Chicago, and received an MFA in painting from The University of California. She lives in Brooklyn. She read from her novel Petropolis.
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KGB: How do you choose between short story and novel? Are you working on a novel or are you a short story person?
AP: I am working on a novel. I sold a collection and a novel at the same time and I'm working on a novel right now. A couple of the stories in the collection were the beginnings of the novel but I didn't separate them out from the stories.
KGB: Lots of your stories feature Kentucky in some way. Are you from there?
AP: Yes I am. I'm from a small town called Willmore in Jessamine County. It's in the mountains and it's very rural, tobacco and horse farm country.
Kentucky is inherently dramatic. It was borderland during the Civil War so it's all about negotiation of boundaries and things like that. For me, my stories are also certain kinds of boundary negations, whether it's psychological or familial or both, so Kentucky works metaphorically. Rural Kentucky is also at a kind of socio-economic level that is dramatic and familiar in a way. It's the landscape I see when I close my eyes so it's the most familiar right now, even though I've been gone for almost twenty years.
KGB: Are you a bourbon drinker?
AP: I used to be. I used to drink a lot of bourbon and Coke. I actually grew up in a totally dry town in a totally dry county. Now I've been working in the wine industry for ten years so I've come on board with that, but yeah, I'm a bourbon enthusiast.
KGB: Have you been to The Derby?
AP: No! My town was no drinking, no gambling, no nothing, basically.
KGB: So getting back to writing, a lot of your stories are very intimate and focus on very emotionally wrought family relationships. Does your novel continue with that? What is it about those dynamics that interests you?
AP: My novel does continue with that. I'm really interested in a certain kind of discomfort and I'm never really happy with a story unless I feel like it's made me really uncomfortable to write it and I've gone to a place that is either uncomfortable to me personally in terms of past experiences of mine or somebody elses - all those various things you draw from when you're a writer. I'm really interested in feeling uncomfortable as I'm writing and making a reader uncomfortable and therefore more aware.
KGB: Do you think there's a correlation between you being uncomfortable as you're writing and your reader being uncomfortable as they read your work? Does that feeling transfer?
AP: I think so, but that's the thing you never know. You never know how a reader's going to feel about it. I'm never satisfied with a story unless I can hardly read it, unless it makes my skin crawl in a very particular way. It's not like I'm interested in freaky anyone out, it's just that I feel like I haven't really gotten to why something bothers me so much or why I've worked so hard to reconcile it unless I'm that uncomfortable.
KGB: You emigrated from Russia when you were 17, and your novel, Petropolis, is about a Siberian girl. Do you ever write in Russian or did you think about your novel in Russian?
AU: No, I never write in Russian. I haven't written in Russian since high school. And I love English.
KGB: The main character, Sasha, lives in town called Asbestos 2. That's a fantastic name. Where did you come up with it?
AU: Everything in The Soviet Union is really artless. When I was growing up everything was really drab and brown. Everything's just so ugly and utilitarian, even the village names. Asbestos is really a straight forward name - you name a town where they mine asbestos after the mineral that they mine. There is an actual place in Siberia called Asbestos. I wanted to write about a town in decline, a town that's basically dying. But the actual Asbestos is a thriving town because they still mine asbestos there and it's just fine. So I didn't feel comfortable setting it in a real city like that because I didn't want people coming after me any saying "that's not how things are in Asbestos!"
Due to technical difficulties, Anya's interview was cut short. Sorry Anya! Look out for KGB's forthcoming book review of Petropolis soon to be posted in the Book Review Section.
- Anya Yurchyshyn, KGB Bar Lit Intern