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Powell's Q&A

Leni Zumas

Describe your latest project.
Farewell Navigator is a collection that just came out from Open City. The stories are set in a variety of traps: a factory where toy hearts are sewn, a town ruled by Wiccan teenagers, a halfway house, the tour van of a nefarious band, an apartment building managed by a gargoyle.

  1. Farewell Navigator: Stories
    $9.95 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist
    "Zumas gives socially awkward, mysteriously gifted and self-destructive outcasts spellbinding, unflinching voice in her debut collection....[A] powerful, irresistible collection." Publishers Weekly

    "I have never read stories like these before and I can't get them out of my head. Her language is real sorcery — it dismantles the world you think you know and takes you to strange, fecund territories of the imagination." Karen Russell, author of St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves


What fictional character would you like to date, and why?
My first literary crush was Ponyboy from The Outsiders. Since I can't in good conscience or under federal law date a fourteen-year-old, my next choice would be Stephen Maturin, the surgeon and natural philosopher from Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander series. Maturin is not much to look at, but he can tell you in six languages about ancient Greece, identify any bird in the sky, and sew your arm back on.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.

The astonishing monsters that we know to be properly part of the natural world leave us with a suspicion that even the most fantastical beasts might not be mere inventions.
—W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
Last month I worked at a writing conference where Charles D'Ambrosio was teaching, and I bought his essay collection Orphans. It blew me away. His mind is dazzling. One piece, about his visit to a Russian orphanage, actually made me cry.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
Yes, to Monk's House, the cottage in Sussex where Virginia Woolf lived. It was disappointing and cool at the same time. I stood pressed up against the tourist-guard glass in her writing shack behind the house, and tried to imagine her sitting there, but couldn't. I kept wondering if the furniture was fake. Nonetheless, I liked being where she had been.

What is your astrological sign?
I am proud to say that I share a birthday with Barack Obama. We are Leos.

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
I first heard of second breakfast from Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, where the patients of an Alpine sanatorium eat about fifteen times a day. In parts of Europe it is customary to add a meal between breakfast and lunch — pastry and sausage, for instance, at 10:30 AM — and I am highly in favor of this practice. Mine would include eggs, Portuguese sweet bread, and anything made with poppy seeds.

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
Painters: Nicole Barrick (gorgeous knots of sex, hair, and wing), Michael Caines (ghost-costumed skeletons in purgatory), Samira Abbassy (fierce many-headed women in flames). Filmmaker: Chris Marker, director of Sans Soleil and La Jetée (eerie brute splinters of memory).

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
These books perform bewitchery. They will leave you changed.

Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson

Timothy, or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, Verlyn Klinkenborg

Independent People, Halldór Laxness

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Rainer Maria Rilke

The Waves, Virginia Woolf

÷ ÷ ÷

Leni Zumas's fiction has recently appeared in Open City, Quarterly West, and New Orleans Review. She is a winner of the AWP Intro Journals Award for Short Fiction. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts–Amherst MFA program, she teaches writing at Hunter College and plays drums in the Brooklyn post-punk band S-S-S-Spectres.

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