10 Questions for Naira Kuzmich
- By Amal Zaman and Danielle Brown
This is the first installment in a series of interviews with our contributors. "10 Questions" was created to give MR's readers a closer look into the professional lives of those who populate our pages.
"When I write, I am singing my Armenian womanhood to whoever might listen. I am dancing a dance about losses I am only just beginning to understand. I am repeating myself, filling my body and the page with all the same notes. Our mothers are our martyrs. What I really want to say is simply I love you, but instead I kill and kill again the women I create in the image of the women I love." - from "On Grief" which appears in our Summer 3016 issue (Volume 57, Issue 2).
Tell us about one of the first pieces you’ve written.
I’ve written nonfiction about my early pieces of fiction (“On Grief” mentions briefly my first two stories, in fact), but the very first piece of CNF I completed was in a freshmen composition course. The thematic concerns of the class were centered on changing family forms, and I ended up writing a final strange “essay” about my mother’s hands. My teacher, the wonderful writer Josie Sigler Sibara, magically saw something in my words that I am forever grateful for, and pushed me towards creative writing. Changed my life completely.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I can only hope that the writers I admire have found their way into my writing. Toni Morrison, Stuart Dybek, and Annie Dillard—these are my literary heroes.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
A more risk-taking writer than I am today, a better prose stylist.
What inspired you to write this piece?
Last year I felt the strong need to write about the centennial of the Armenian Genocide while at the same time feeling uncomfortable about giving in to this expectation—both personal and social—so when I was presented with the opportunity to speak at “100 Years Later: The ASU Armenian Genocide Conference,” I was determined to both work through my feelings and approach this very important subject with a very specific lens. And that was, somewhat paradoxically, through a larger discussion on grief, and the Armenian woman’s especially intimate relationship with grief.
Are you particular about your workspace or can you write anywhere?
I can’t write in public spaces or on a desk. I’m either on the couch in my apartment, or on the rocking chair in my parents’ backyard, shaded in the summer by the yellowing grape leaves.
What other professions have you worked in?
I’ve worked in a library acquisition department and in public social services. I currently teach undergraduates composition and creative writing.
Is there a city or place that influences your writing?
Immigrant L.A., and the memory and dream of Armenia.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you perform when writing?
I want my work to express simultaneous sorrow and beauty, and I find that nothing gets me closer to that mind-frame than when listening to the duduk. Perhaps this is a cliché—to listen to the duduk for inspiration as an Armenian-American writer—but it is the voice, I think, behind almost all of my words.
What is your favorite food and/or drink to have while writing?
Nutella and Salt and Vinegar Chips. That’s a good example of my snacking patterns, especially when I’m in the middle of writing: I must always follow something sweet with something salty. But, after salty, I can’t help but want something sweet again. You can imagine what happens after that.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
My partner, Vedran Husić (whose own amazing work appears in the Massachusetts Review, Volume 54, Issue 2).
Naira Kuzmich was born in Armenia and raised in the Los Angeles enclave of Little Armenia. Her nonfiction is published or forthcoming in the Threepenny Review, Cincinnati Review, and Guernica. Recent fiction can be found in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2015. This essay was adapted from a talk presented at “100 Years Later: ASU Armenian Genocide Conference” on March 22, 2015.