Friday, February 26, 2016

Michele Filgate talks about Red Ink, being daunted, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and so much more!

Everyone in the literary world knows and adores Michele Filgate--and for a huge variety of reasons. First, she's a tireless champion of writers. Second, she's smart, funny and a great writer herself. Third, her Facebook page is so much fun to follow, you might want to just pitch a tent there and stay there. She ran events at indie bookstores for seven years. First at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, New Hampshire; then at McNally Jackson in Manhattan, and last (but not least!) Community Bookstore in Brooklyn.She also is curating the Red Ink panels at the fabulous BookCourt bookstore, a quarterly series co-sponsored by the great Literary Hub. And don't miss the second Red Ink Panel featuring Eileen Myles (Must be Living Twice), Ruth Ozeki (The Face: A Time Code), Porochista Khakpour (A forthcoming memoir called Sick), Anna March (Salon, The Rumpus, the New York Times) and Alexandra Kleeman (You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine.) 9/22 at 7.

I'm so jazzed to have Michele here!  Thank you, thank you, Michele!

 I don’t think I’ve met anyone as amazing as you. You gave up steady work at a bookstore as the events person to make it as a writer—and you did. But not only that, you give so much back to the literary community, including this spectacular new venture Red Ink, a reading series for women writers. What made you come up with this idea? And how do you see it growing?

I ran events at indie bookstores for seven years. First at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, New Hampshire; then at McNally Jackson in Manhattan, and last (but not least!) Community Bookstore in Brooklyn. I really enjoy curating literary conversations, and even though I gave it up as something I do on a regular basis, it’s part of my DNA. There are lots of great reading series in NYC (including Franklin Park Reading Series, run by the amazing Penina Roth) so I wanted to do something a little bit different. What if I could bring together a diverse group of women to talk about issues that a lot of people care about? What if I could partner with a great indie bookstore in order to do this? I approached BookCourt’s rock star events coordinator, Andrew Unger, and he loved the idea. I asked Lit Hub, where I’m a contributing editor, to co-sponsor the series. It all came together so easily, and I’m really pleased. There will be four panels a year. The next one is on September 22nd, so save the date!  It’s too early to say how I see this growing, but who knows? Maybe there could be a Red Ink imprint down the line.

I love the idea of the first event, Finding Solitude in a Noisy World, which is a big issue for most of the writers I know.  How do we block out the world at large to carve out work, while still staying connected? Will every reading tackle an important question?

I’m sure Katherine, Valeria, Molly, Angela, and Leslie will have great answers to that very question! Or more questions, perhaps! I picked this topic for two reasons. One is that I wanted to do an event for my friend Katherine Towler, whose new memoir, THE PENNY POET OF PORTSMOUTH, is one of the most exquisitely beautiful books about the writing life that I’ve ever read. She focuses on her friendship with Robert Dunn, an eccentric poet who was well-known in Portsmouth, NH, but content to be a minor poet in the world. He had a town he thrived in, but he also had a private world that he guarded; a space where he reflected and came up with his poems. That’s something we can all learn from Robert: the idea of embracing our communities while also retreating from it when we need to. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this question. I think it’s perhaps the biggest challenge for writers, honestly. Short of going to writing retreats (which many writers can’t afford to do) and canceling plans with friends and family, how do we make sure we have the time we need to create? How do we nurture it? How do we not feel guilty during the time that we AREN’T writing?

I do hope that all of the panels will tackle some sort of question, or at least some sort of big idea.

You’ve mentioned that this series will also have transcripts of each event for people who can’t make it—which is a genius idea. I always feel terrible when I can’t get to events! Any plans to put these transcripts into a book later? Or a podcast series?

Good idea! We’ll see.

How do you manage to do all that you do? You teach creative nonfiction, you are a contributing editor at LitHub, you are running this series, you produce literary segments and you write—and I am probably missing at least a dozen other things. And despite all of this you remain one of the kindest, warmest, most confidant people I’ve met. Does anything ever daunt you?

I am constantly daunted, and unafraid of showing that side of myself on social media. I believe in sharing the good and the bad, and there’s a lot of bad. I deal with depression and anxiety on a daily basis. Perhaps I keep myself so busy as a way of distracting myself. I’m sure that has something to do with it. 2016 is my year of learning to say no: to assignments I don’t want, coffee dates, etc. (I’m very bad at saying no. I try to do all of the things. No one can do all of the things. I also really believe in mentoring and helping out other writers.) I am making more of an effort to allow myself time to reflect. That’s just as important, if not more so, than actual writing time. I really, really want to write a book. That is my number one priority right now. So I’m in the process of working on something and trying to figure out if it will amount to anything. I hope it will.

What’s obsessing you now (beside Red Ink) and why?

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”! I was hesitant to watch the show because the name really offended me. But it’s subversive and smart and really, really funny. Rachel Bloom is so talented! My favorite song is “The SexyGetting Ready Song.”

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

How many times have you deleted these answers and rewritten them?

Don’t ask. J

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