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10 Questions for Abby Manzella

On November 1, 2012—over ten years ago now—I awake to the sound of a generator . . . in another, wealthier building. It is Day Four of the blackout. I cover my nose from the chill in my unheated and lightless apartment. My husband, already awake, wraps his arms around me and gives a quick squeeze. The warmth from his body accentuates the cold of the air. 

“It’s time to e-scavenge,” he whispers in my ear. We are co-conspirators, taking new actions and finding new words for this strange, new moment. 

I grumble against the intrusion of the morning. Still, I know it’s time to face the day, so I slip out of my husband’s embrace and our bed into the cold air of our once perpetually overheated apartment.
from "A Community of E-Scavengers," Volume 65, Issue 1 (Spring 2024)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
As a kid, I wrote a lot of poetry and fiction, but it was only really after graduate school that I took my nonfiction out of my journals into a more essayist form. I saw that scholarly work could use all of those creative craft elements I had learned over the years. For instance, I published a piece not that long ago at Threepenny Review where I tell the history of the underground fires in Centralia, Pennsylvania (not too far from where I grew up in PA) in the form of a glossary.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
The answer to this question, like many of these questions, is always in motion. In some of my writing I know that I like the jumps of Sabrina Orah Mark, the lyricism of Sarah Manguso, and the minimalism of Julie Otsuka, but I also appreciate how the short work of Rebecca Makkai often uses fictional approaches to branch into nonfiction.

What did you want to be when you were young?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in the fourth grade, but I became an American literature professor first. The road has been winding, and the joy is in those turns.

What inspired you to write this piece?
I was in Manhattan during Superstorm Sandy, so I wanted to share my direct experiences, but I had also written about mass displacements caused by “natural” disasters in my academic book Migrating Fictions: Gender, Race, and Citizenship in U.S. Internal Displacements (Ohio State UP), so I wanted to talk about the connections I was seeing. I began writing the piece in the midst of the storm because my husband and I used writing as a means of entertainment during the days when the power was out.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I have lived in many places from Vermont to Virginia, New York to Pennsylvania, North Carolina to Arizona, and Kentucky to Missouri. I find that I am a very place-based writer, so each new place creeps into my thinking. I was particularly thrilled to get to write about the streets I traversed in Manhattan during Superstorm Sandy because suddenly they took on new dimensions.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I used to listen to music more when I was writing. Now I sometimes put on something without words, but too often my love of music pulls me from my thinking about writing to thinking about music, so it is often best saved for more focused attention.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Nope. I just sit down and get it done whenever I can. If someone wants to give me a cappuccino to ease the way, I wouldn’t mind, but that’s certainly not part of a general plan.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
My husband is almost always my first reader. He is the one who even gets to hear about my first inklings before they even make it to the page, but I feel lucky to know several writers who share their time with me as I polish. Now with Zoom that means I can easily talk with writers who live far from me.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Oh, I love crossing artistic boundaries! I do that in writing by engaging in nonfiction, fiction, and even a little poetry. Beyond that, though, music and photography are arenas that always spur my thinking, and I’ve published a few pieces that include photographs or narrative elements about music.

What are you reading right now?
I always have several things going at the same time because of teaching, reviewing, and my own pleasure. Here are a few recent ones that I’ve been reading or re-reading:
Clare Beams’s forthcoming novel, The Garden
Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown
Sarah Manguso’s memoir The Two Kinds of Decay and her forthcoming novel Liars
Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods
Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow
Lauren Groff’s The Vaster Wilds
Elizabeth McCracken’s The Hero of This Book
Yiyun Li’s The Book of Goose


ABBY MANZELLA is the author of Migrating Fictions: Gender, Race, and Citizenship in U.S. Internal Displacements, winner of the Society for the Study of American Women Writers Book Award and the honorable mention for the MLA Book Prize for Independent Scholars. She is an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Truman State University who has published with journals such as The Threepenny Review, Colorado Review, HAD, and Pleiades

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