Interviewer: How did you go about selecting the form of the book? In Homesick there are bolded titles that frame short chapters, with accompanying images and captions. But I also have to confess, I watched an interview with you where you said that as a teacher and a translator, part of your job is to find the essence of someone’s voice. As an alternative beginning, I wanted to ask how you went about identifying your own particular authorial voice, because it’s so distinctive in the text.
I think we can talk about both. I would also love to talk about your shoes, that are displayed so beautifully and neatly.
Thank you so much. Of course, we can discuss whenever!
It’s something that’s always on our minds now because our daughter is obsessed with shoes. She’s going to be one year old on Saturday.
She’s always trying to grab our shoes but she thinks that they’re called ‘Nonos.’ Because we always say ‘no’ when she picks up a shoe. So, nice Nonos that you have shelved and in the picture.
I’m teaching more creative writing now, so it’s good that you’re telling me something I said that I don’t remember saying—but I do think it’s really important.
I have been translating for such along time and been instinctively trying to identify that essence; which might be voice, or the spirit of the text. Which I really differentiate between—the spirit of the text and who the author is. I try not to consult the author during my translation process, which I think a lot of people find strange. But I want the text to be its own self contained, living organism and I am working with that for the duration of my translation process.
Homesick was the first book where I did apply some of those same principles to my own writing. I started working on it toward the tail end of a PhD dissertation. I had also been trying to write a novel in English. But that atrocious academic style was bleeding over. I mean, the PhD dissertation is the world’s worst genre. No one wants to read that. My committee members did not read that. I would never read it again. I don’t even know if I read it before turning it in. So that was one reason why I wanted to break away from that completely. I had also started translating Argentine writers and I was really struck by how vulnerable some of them were making themselves in their fiction. In autofiction, which was so moving. I felt like I really needed to reciprocate, if I really wanted to be a full member of the literary community where I was living. Not just translate people, not just publish people, but also make myself that raw and open and maybe also share some things about where I came from, which people were also curious about. When you come from elsewhere, people kind of want to know a little bit about it so… that was kind of the thinking behind it.
But I just woke up one morning with a terrible hangover and was looking for coffee and couldn’t really do ‘real work’ and so I just sat down and started outlining this. I think that maybe because I was writing in a language in which I feel really comfortable and happy but I also make a lot of mistakes and I’m very aware that I don’t sound like a native speaker, I was able to invent that voice. As though it were a slightly different person, reverse engineering the translation process. I don’t think of either the English version or the Spanish version of Homesick as a translation. I think they’re both original works. But maybe that creation of the character of myself was different from how I had operated before and did permit me to come up with this form that might produce a slightly more premeditated effect on the reader than what I had been used to doing.
I’ve heard you talk about the fact that you’re really inspired by the structure of Slavic languages in this book. How there are certain arrangements of words that aren’t necessarily identical to how English is structured. Did your choice to be inspired by its language construction happen first, or did the content of what you wanted to write about come first? Because they were so well integrated into each other.
The Slavic syntax thing came a little bit later. It’s something that I’m working with again in my new novel. I immediately realised that I wanted to write about photography. Since Homesick is a book that’s trying to reconstruct a very obsessive childhood, a child who’s always trying to capture someone and something and prevent it from changing, I felt as if photography would be the ideal vessel for that. Especially for that panic and that denial. The vignettes are supposed to resemble a polaroid snapshot. The title at the top is supposed to be like that white strip—that’s how I was picturing it: something to hold onto and then you get into the text. The text is somewhat frozen and there may be years between the vignettes. It’s a shoebox of pictures and someone hands you that.
How do you remake a life out of that?
I wanted to write about childhood because that was something my Spanish would allow me to do. I wanted to write about coming from far away and eventually arriving in Argentina. But in the Spanish version there was always that tension from the first sentence. Of, this person is writing in Argentine Spanish that is obviously foreign and how did that happen? You read the events that are occurring, but you’re also always wondering, we know at the end she comes to Argentina, otherwise nothing makes sense—so how does she get from A to B?
I started writing a version in English, which I started doing to be able to share it with my real sister who doesn’t speak Spanish. I was always looking for something that would be similarly slightly suspenseful. Of course, I couldn’t recreate the same effect—I naturally sound like I’m from elsewhere, in Spanish. I’m not going to come up with an artificial way of doing that in English. But I did want to slightly defamiliarise English. One way to do that is to subtly shift the syntax of word order. It should always make sense and not be confusing, but maybe just unexpected. I wanted it to be inviting, but also slightly different.
I did that and my agent actually suggested that I include actual photographs as well as the prose vignettes that are supposed to resemble photographs. I resisted that for a while. It took a couple of years to develop a form that I felt was not redundant. If the book is its own illustration and you add illustrations, it just becomes padding. But I ultimately arranged the colour photographs in reverse chronological order to simulate some of that pull that was in the original Spanish—of here’s a girl talking about a tornado in Oklahoma and hiding in a pantry, but here’s a photograph that’s obviously of Paris. How do the [two] things fit together?
My fascination with free word order in Slavic languages is there to complement all of the other elements of the book but isn’t present in the Spanish, because I don’t have that much control over my language.
That the narrative code was photography—that must be why when reading it, I felt a bit like an investigator of the text. There was clearly a conversation between text and image. In the spirit of that, have your sister and you had conversations about the book?
She loves it. We’ve been talking actually, about co writing not exactly a sequel but something about her ongoing journey with a lot of different ongoing chronic illnesses. She’s a really inspirational person. She loves the name Zoe. Her real name is Anne Marie but a lot of people in my family now call her ‘Zoe’ because she feels like she just identifies with that. With that side of herself, because I did write this as a novel—so there are elements of characters that I’ve chosen to bring out more. I’ve really depicted her as this wild animal. I think she likes that.
She was really present from the first stages of the book, in the drafting process. If she felt like something was missing, she would suggest it. She also has participated in public conversations with me about it. She has been, I think, happy that a little piece of her story has been told. Although, obviously this is more about me, or the older sister Amy.
I hope that we get to write a book that’s really more about what it was like to be a person actually going through brain surgeries and continuing to deal with a lot of aftershocks from those. She’s thirty eight now and still dealing with all of that.
I’ll happily be a reader of that sequel. You write, toward the end of the book, something along the lines that all of the photographs in it are portraits of Zoe. It would be so fascinating to have her voice find its way in.
I think the ending opens up that possibility. It ends just as Amy releases her own fictional Zoe into the world and is ready to accept that Zoe has all of these other, very different ideas and approaches. It’s definitely not the next book I’m publishing, but it would be a logical next step.
I also adored how the last chapter was a zoom through of Amy’s many years after. It felt as if there was a new rhythm that was being accessed, which came about after leaving the architecture of the dialectic that had anchored the book until then. All this to say, I’m there for the sequel!
I’m so glad you feel that way, because that ending was really hard to figure out. I went through a lot of different drafts with that.
Would you mind talking about what made you land on it as the final ending?
As you know, the basic arc of the book is that an older sister becomes so emotionally entangled with her younger sister that when her younger sister becomes seriously ill, the older sister makes herself quite sick also. Through a series of strange events, she’s on her own and dealing with very serious depression. I knew I wanted to address that and get to that, because I think it’s a pretty under addressed subject in literature. I don’t know why. It’s been taboo for a while, but lots of people suffer from depression. So I knew I wanted to get to that. I also knew very much that I didn’t want to end on that.
One thing that I kept doing was making it too long. The energy of the book runs out at the lowest point of Amy’s depression. Then, I obviously wanted to be honest about the fact that it can be a very very slow process and a halting process, of going back and forth, when you’re recovering from something like that. But I kept trying to represent that and I just wasn’t able to sustain it in the narrative.
The reality is that my sister and I never lost touch. Whereas in the book, Zoe stops talking with Amy for a long time and that enables Amy to then start living elsewhere. She moves to Europe and she pursues languages and photography. That isn’t at all what happened in our lives, we never lost touch like that, but it was a way to jumpstart that individuation that I felt was necessary to reach that ending of the book.
But there were a lot of versions where it was twice as long or three times as long. Amy was living in France for a long time and had a baby. Often I would end with, ‘Amy has a baby.’ I think the temptation was to give Amy another person to care for and to take care of in the way that she was always trying to do with Zoe. But I kept cutting that because at the same time I felt like, ‘well, let’s just let Amy take care of herself for a while before we stick another person under her wing.’ I hadn’t had children at that point so I also felt, ‘oh I don’t really know what this is like.’
Anyway, I wanted to scale it back as much as possible. I think some people feel like it is a little rushed or like it doesn’t quite follow from what came before. Which is fine. Each of the versions is really different. I have the UK and the US and the Argentine version here. The translation that has been done has been from the US version, so far. It’s nice that there are a million different versions floating around. Maybe I’ll just keep writing it forever.
How did you make choices about what ‘real’ parts of your life to include and what parts to fictionalise? Also, were you thinking about the constraints of the autofiction genre in any way, when writing the book?
I wasn’t really thinking about the constraints of the whole genre. I really was going off of what was happening in Argentine fiction. I was feeling, in general, in the other languages I was reading, there wasn’t this emphasis on truth versus not truth.
I had this from when I was a teenager—that I would write something and the feedback that I would get here in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at workshops was, ‘did you actually experience this or not?’ I began writing about issues of mental health I remember, back then. I found it so frustrating then, even though they were things that I had experienced. I just didn’t feel like I owed it to anyone to explain that. I see now that it is much more complicated than that.
But still, it really depends on what we’re talking about. If I were just going to write a novel from the perspective of an Icelandic farmer and I don’t know anything about farming or being Icelandic, then of course that doesn’t make any sense.
But without going too far into this question, which like I say is a very complicated one, it does feel like an obsession to me in the English speaking world. It’s caused a lot of confusion, that the book has been published as a novel and as a memoir. I did not make the decision to publish it as a memoir. I read fiction, that’s what I’ve always loved and that’s what I gravitate toward. That’s how I thought I was structuring it. In terms of how I made those decisions, I decided based on what would produce the most satisfying narrative arc. If there were a couple of characters that contributed to something, I might collapse them into a single character to avoid superfluous sections. Things like that. If I were writing a biography of someone, that would be a violation. But going back to this question of spirit or essence, I was trying to capture the spirit of a time and of a thing, which is this emotional entanglement as a phenomenon.
Then there’s this idea of suicide contagion. Which sometimes happens with celebrities. When a celebrity commits suicide there are certain teenage fans or other ages, but especially teenagers who are vulnerable to this, who are influenced. I wanted to deal with those things and I wanted to do it in the most effective narrative way possible that would also entangle the reader a little bit.
That was the decision making process. When my editor in the US decided that it needed to be a memoir, she didn’t really want any other edits. At that point I was pretty attached to it the way it was. I couldn’t imagine changing the names of the characters, for example. My sister had decided that her true identity was Zoe anyway. I couldn’t imagine rewriting it in first person, or anything like that. So she just published it the way it was but called it a memoir. I don’t know… it’s a decision that I still wonder about.
Do you feel as if people you’ve talked to about the book have understood that it’s a novel? Or in essence a novel, even if it’s riffing off of your personal experiences?
I think people have found it really confusing. They find it confusing that the names are not the same and that maybe causes them to look for other things. But of course, you can’t know what’s fiction and what’s not. I mean, how would you know that? Trying to figure that out is going to be a frustrating exercise. I think going forward, I want to make sure that it’s just one or the other but like I said, I’m much more drawn to fiction so it’s probably just going to be fiction.
You brought up both depression and the healing process from it— how it doesn’t necessarily mimic how people land in a position in which they’re reckoning with it, as well as this idea of suicide contagion. Was it difficult to write those sections of the book?
Once I got out of my hangover, I was really into the idea. From day one I kind of put aside everything else and I focused on that. I wrote the whole thing in my apartment in Buenos Aires. In about a month I was done with the first draft. I was so in the trance. I was down there and didn’t have a job I had to go to, I was freelance translating. I really cocooned myself and that was really helpful. Because I was able to get this very continuous experience of descending into a kind of madness. I think I did find it really harrowing as I was writing it. I mean, I was also experiencing all of the stuff alongside my character. I found it cathartic. Then as I wrote more drafts and wrote in both languages, I started to find it needlessly harrowing. I didn’t want to keep going over and over and over these very awful feelings that this character was having.
This is maybe an example of spending too long on a project. I probably wouldn’t do that again. But that was really because of the addition of photography. The photography made everything so much more complicated, because I felt like every time I added a colour photograph, I had to move things around a lot and make sure things remained continuous.
But that initial thing was really cathartic.
You mentioned earlier you’re in the midst of writing another book, not the sequel but a different book. In this other work, have you also similarly approached creating the first draft as one where you isolate yourself and enter a trance? Or has your approach been different, this second time?
It’s been a combined approach. I was super super lucky to get to go, at the height of the pandemic somehow, probably illegally, to Switzerland. I was kind of arrested at the Frankfurt airport and taken to a holding cell and they were like, ‘why are you going to Switzerland? You’re not allowed, it’s September 2020.’ I was like, ‘I don’t know, I’m just going, it’s gonna be fine.’ Anyway, I went to this wonderful residency called The Jan Michalski Foundation. It consists of seven gorgeous, they call them ‘tree houses,’ but they’re kind of tiny palaces. Each of them is designed by a world famous architect, but a different architect. Mine was a Scandinavian, beautiful, pine wood, four story thing overlooking the Alps in Geneva. I mean, it was ridiculous.
Because it was the pandemic, there were only three of us there. I was really able to focus. It happened that the other two people there were Polish, Jewish, a poet and a journalist, and we got along really well. We were like the Three Musketeers, kind of bopping around Switzerland. We had a personal chef, it was one of the best… it was so preposterous. So that’s where I did the first draft of my novel!
But then the second half of it is that I revised it to send it out to publishers when I was between six months and eight months pregnant with twins. In my third trimester, everything that could possibly go wrong in a pregnancy, happened. I was enormous and basically on bed rest. But I was trying to type over my enormous stomach. I got carpal tunnel, I had all this other stuff, my vision deteriorated. I never wore glasses before that… anyway, it was so much harder. I sold the book a week after giving birth. I had to do another revision last year. I’m on the final final edits.
I don’t know how people do this. There are so many people who are parents and writers. I just don’t know how you do it. Because for me, it is really important to immerse myself in the world that I’m creating. You just can’t do that if you’re interrupted every five seconds by someone who needs your attention, quite urgently.
So it was glorious and then it was very real. We’ll see how it turns out.
You’ve mentioned Argentina and I know you’ve lived there before. You were talking earlier about being inspired by their literary community. Do you feel, now that you live in the U.S., that there’s a similar literary community that you feel as if you’re a part of? Or do you almost feel as if you’re part of a community internationally?
I lived in Tulsa until I was nineteen and I left, supposedly never to return. For half of my life, I was not travelling, but living in other places. I really feel so connected to so many places. I felt like my intellectual community was very very scattered. That was a great feeling, because it seemed to me that I could show up in any capital and have friends to see and talk to and find interesting—hear about books. I guess that is still the case somewhat, but obviously it’s less appealing to pack up two babies and show up in any European capital.
I don’t know, I guess I feel like it’s such a hard thing to know also… I felt so comfortable in the Argentine literary community partly because I was a foreigner. I felt like I was being received so warmly. Sometimes I feel like that, in New York, and sometimes… I mean, I do think one thing that one can say objectively is that the literary world in New York is vastly more commercial than the literary world in Argentina. There’s just so much more money at stake. People do probably approach their work a little bit differently. Novelists have to be much more strategically and potentially a little bit less experimental, or a little less collaborative.
But I just got back from the PEN World Voice Festival and was so delighted to spend a couple days with a lot of great writers. I think one thing about the US world is that it’s very diverse in a way that the Argentine literary community for example wasn’t, or the Polish wouldn’t be. So that’s good, in terms of peoples’ backgrounds.
There’s also the question of the MFA, the Iowa style MFA, and to what extent that has flattened US literature. I think that is something to think about. But I’m optimistic that some of the new generation, whether or not they’ve done an MFA, is more open to other influences. I did an event with Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, whose new book, Chain-Gang All-Stars, is, I think a great example of that. I feel like he’s the future of literature. He’s exactly ten years younger than I am, and he did do an MFA. He is also really interested in hip hop and anime and photography and film—and he reads very very widely. His parents are Ghanaian. That is the best possible scenario for literature at the moment. I think people in the U.S. have that potential, maybe more than anywhere else. If that is pursued, I think it’s a really exciting time for the U.S. literary community. I am very excited to be engaging with that.
That’s so exciting to hear, on my end as well. In La Piccioletta Barca, we’re investigating how to contest the idea of the writer as the sole, all knowing creator. To reveal different artistic influences and conversations between art forms, between people—to emphasise how books can be the site of those types of conversations. So it’s really exciting to hear you say all of that. I’m wondering for you, are there elements in your life that continuously have made up your own artistic toolbox?
We’ve talked about the role of photography in my first book, but I just also wanted to go back to what you said about your goals. My second novel is a lot about taking apart the idea of an original work. Creating the concept of the necessary connections that has to exist, the kind of community that has to exist, in order for a work to happen in the world. In a way that is more similar to an ecosystem in nature. I like to always talk about literary ecosystems. I don’t know if you’ve read Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life. You’ll really really like it.
That book is all about the entanglements in the forest. How there are fungi that connect trees to other plants in this way that is mycelial, in this underground network. What I wanted to do in my new book is view translation and artistic celebrity through that lens. To undo a famous author in favour of all of her translators, the people who are working on her behalf. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. I think that insistence on the original genius who’s working alone is so counterproductive and also deceitful. On the part of the publishers who are pushing it, but also readers who buy into that. I think it’s doing a huge disservice to everybody—so I’m with you on that.
I couldn’t agree more—it’s also inaccurate, that certain people are an original genius. Artists are always taking inspiration from different sources, it’s never wholly from their being. But Jenny, the book you just described, your second book—you’ve just described my dream book.
Feel free to stop me at any point, if you have to go as well! But you said in another interview that in some way all translators wonder ‘the extent to which we are the protagonists of the target language texts.’ Is this a reference to the authorial voice of the translated text, that the translators are a new author? Or were you actually suggesting that translators are an ideal reader? That they become a protagonist because a work in translation didn’t come out of their brain and they’re a sieve that’s processing it?
I didn’t know I said that either! I also dramatise that in this new book. More literally, in the sense that, there are these translators who gather in a primaeval forest in Poland to translate their author. They eventually uncover some schemes of hers to rewrite a book that’s actually about them. That is an interest of mine—the collaboration between author and translator that often skews toward the author having all of the power and the translator being very beholden to the author. Sometimes the author is close to the translator and may take a lot of inspiration from the translator—this isn’t something that’s happened to me, to be clear. But I have heard these stories from other translators. On a literal level, that is an interesting phenomenon.
I do think that translation is in some ways a very active form of close reading. In that sense, the translator is the protagonist of the action of reading—and is taking contents or a spirit, and writing a completely new book with them. They would be a protagonist in the same way the author has to be, but perhaps in a more self aware way.
In translations, I’m not trying to add things to it. I’m trying to harness all of the power that is in the text that I receive—and maybe transform it. I’m not wanting to pile on to what’s already there. Because in theory, I wouldn’t have chosen it if I didn’t feel it was already replete with things that are fun to read.
How you just described works that you translate sounded almost as if they were enveloping you. As opposed to coming up with language from within yourself. When writing your own work, do you find that there are more points of entry within the process of constructing the text?
What I really like about both writing and translation is that enveloping and that immersion, in a world. I arrived at this novel after a few years of mulling over a couple of things. One is the setting of the primaeval forest. One is this idea of translator author collaboration, as I was pursuing a lot of other projects. That was taking place in the back of my mind and then when I sat down in Switzerland, I was able to create that cocoon again.
It’s so hard to even identify what makes that process different. It feels like it is a different energy. It’s the difference between going out on stage and doing a solo performance versus…
When I was in Argentina, I did take a little bit of tango. Have you done it?
No, I haven’t. But I grew up dancing.
Yes—I did ballet when I was a child. I found that very physically taxing and was not good at it. Not that I was good at tango, but I found tango… it’s not physically demanding. It’s emotionally and also surprisingly intellectually rigorous. I did these private lessons with this wonderful philosopher slash tango teacher. I felt like that was so illuminating, in terms of also translation.
As the woman or person who is following, you can’t try and anticipate your partner, but you have to be so in tune with your partner and leaning so far into your partner, that at the slightest—it’s almost like anticipating but it isn’t—it’s instantly intuiting where they’re going and they have to communicate it perfectly, too. They have to be very communicative. They tap you and you know that you’re supposed to turn, or whatever. That’s obviously not happening if you’re alone. But no one watching tango would say, ‘the man is obviously the genius here and the woman is basically doing nothing, is just being faithful.’ You see a pair and they’re dancing beautifully and they’re in sync with each other. Everyone always comes up with different metaphors for translation but that’s the one that I’m going to use in this conversation.
Do you attach certain emotional weight to the different languages you translate? Or do you feel like when you’re in one, you’re pulling from that pot, but you can really quickly transition between them and they all feel the same to you?
No, I definitely don’t. Well, I can’t do anything quickly, in general. I’m a very slow person. All of these languages that I’ve studied, I started studying pretty late. It’s actually pretty hard to maintain a language. I haven’t spent as much time in Poland recently. I feel very up to date with Olga Tokarczuk. But she has her own specific lexicon and her own specific sound and texture. I think it would take spending more time in Warsaw for me to feel super comfortable again with Polish. Whereas I lived in Buenos Aires for seven years and when I pick up something in Spanish it feels a little bit fresher to me. Also because I did live there and I thought I would live there forever. I really loved being in Buenos Aires very very much and I still dream about being there every night.
Last night, I had a nightmare I woke up from and then went right back into. My daughter started crying, but it was about her. I took her to Buenos Aires and realised when I got there I had forgotten her travel crib and her carrier and I was like, ‘What do I do? I’ve never been in Buenos Aires with a baby before.’ It’s very very close to me, emotionally.
I think that does matter in terms of how I’m translating and how I’m perceiving the text that I’m receiving from authors. That’s also why I was able to write a book in Argentine Spanish that is also a very personal story. Could not have done that in Polish. I never studied Spanish before I moved to Argentina but you read about how I had studied Russian and then switched to Polish in graduate school, studied it equally rigorously for two years. Then I got a Fulbright and I was very into my official Fulbright project at the University of Warsaw when I was twenty one. There was definitely a time when I would study the dictionary and I knew every word. Probably could have actually been mistaken for a native speaker of Polish, at some point.
That’s so not the case now.
Polish is so fascinating to me. The grammar is so fascinating and the way that words are related to one another is so fascinating. In a way that Spanish isn’t. Spanish is something I love. I have had so many relationships in Spanish, friendships and otherwise. It’s just completely different for me and it definitely does feel like a completely different beast—when I’m translating from Polish and when I’m translating from Spanish.
I can only translate one author per day. Because it isn’t easy for me to switch voices.
The two main characters of the book Chain-Gang All-Stars are both women. Which I found interesting, for a young man to be doing. I felt he [Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah] did it really really compellingly, it’s a very polyphonic book and the voices of each character are so strong. He said that as he was writing it, he was only able to write one character per day. He never went between characters in a single writing session. That resonated with me a lot, as a translator.
I think it can be difficult, once your brain is in a certain mode, it can be hard to switch.
I personally feel as if when I speak different languages, I am slightly different. Of course I’m the same person, but the way in which I access feelings, linguistically, is slightly different. Do you feel that way too? When you were in Buenos Aires, for example, did you find it difficult to think about Polish, did that feel like a person so far away? The way you described, in Homesick, how Zoe felt far away from Amy?
I think there’s a part of me that likes, that needs to be far away from things in order to totally engage with them intellectually or in my work. I’ve been trying to write a book about Buenos Aires for a very long time and so far, have not managed to do it. The protagonist of this book that I’ve been telling you about is Argentine, but the book takes place in a Polish forest. And I’ve also been working on a book about postcards for a while—I have postcards from everywhere except I have no postcards from Buenos Aires. I barely have pictures of Buenos Aires. It’s so emotionally important to me that I can’t engage with it in any other way.
Definitely, in terms of who I am in different languages, I feel like I really became myself only when I moved to Argentina and was able to speak in Spanish and was able to access all this pent up emotion that I just hadn’t gotten to, at any point before. People automatically called me ‘Jenny’ there instead of ‘Jennifer,’ never before in my life had I had a nickname. And I immediately—Jenny is so much better than Jennifer. The person who is ‘Jenny’ is really happy and surrounded by people. Jennifer’s so serious and always working and always stressed out.
I wanted to ask, since we’ve touched on language and authorial voice and photography and all of these different influences, how would you describe your creative ambition for other works you want to dig into? Whether that’s works of translation or works you want to create, what do you want to investigate?
When I was working on Homesick at first, it was so nice to be completely unknown and to be doing things for the sake of doing them. Also, there’s that discrepancy that I mentioned, between the Argentine literary community which is not money based. I’m sure if you asked an Argentine writer, they wished that they were receiving more money for their work. Obviously, they would say, ‘yes.’
But there was something I felt very liberated by there. I was imagining a lot of experiments—definitely collaborating with other writers. I wanted to write a potentially bilingual book with an Argentine writer friend of mine who’s also a musician. There was a website for Homesick that I worked on for a long time that had peoples’ responses to the book and their own childhood photographs. Lots and lots of translations, especially into languages that we often don’t see in the English speaking world. I was really interested in doing that.
All of that stuff is free.
I have been trying to work on this project around postcards. I find postcards really interesting and also, potentially, troubling. It might be a novel. Or I can also imagine doing a lot of side projects—I can imagine interactive exhibits would be fun to do in different places. I don’t know. I want to see what is possible with babies. Definitely something around postcards would be the next project.
Then of course, there’s Zoe’s magnum opus after that.
Jennifer Croft won a 2022 Guggenheim Fellowship for her novel The Extinction of Irena Rey (2024), the 2020 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing for her illustrated memoir Homesick and the 2018 International Booker Prize for her translation from Polish of Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights. She is also the translator of Federico Falco’s A Perfect Cemetery, Romina Paula’s August, Pedro Mairal’s The Woman from Uruguay, and Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob (a finalist for the Kirkus Prize). In 2023, she received an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature. She lives in Los Angeles and Tulsa with her husband and twins.