Conversations in the Author's Corner: Suzanne Feldman and Anthony Moll
This month we are lucky enough to feature not one but two D.C.-area authors: Suzanne Feldman and Anthony Moll, winners of the Washington Writers' Publishing House 2022 manuscript contests in fiction and poetry, respectively. Suzanne Feldman is the author of the short story collection The Witch Bottle, and Anthony Moll is the author of the poetry collection You Cannot Save Here. Caroline Bock, president and editor at the Washington Writers’ Publishing House (WWPH), led the conversation.
About the WWPH: The Washington Writers’ Publishing House (WWPH) is a forty-seven-year-old, nonprofit, cooperative all-volunteer press based in DC whose mission is to publish and celebrate the work of poets and fiction writers in Maryland, Virginia, and DC. In 2021, WWPH published its first anthology in twenty-five years, This Is What America Looks Like: Poetry & Fiction from DC, Maryland, and Virginia, edited by Caroline Bock and Jona Colson, and featuring 100 writers and 111 works. The press also launched WWPH Writes, a bi-weekly literary journal spotlighting one fiction writer and one poet from the DMV. In 2021, WWPH received a Creativity Grant from the Maryland State Arts Council to further its work and outreach.
About the Authors: Suzanne Feldman received her Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of five novels, including Absalom’s Daughters (Holt, 2016) She was a Walter Dakin Fellow at the Sewanee Writers Conference in 2019. Her latest novel, Sisters of the Great War, (Mira/HarperCollins, 2021) has been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. In 2022, she was awarded a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council. (WWPH note: Suzanne Feldman is no relation to Jean Feldman of the poetry sponsorship).
Anthony Moll is a Queer poet, essayist, and educator. Their work has appeared in Hobart, Little Patuxent Review, Poet Lore, jubilat, and more. Anthony is a Ph.D. Candidate in English and holds an MFA in creative writing & publishing arts. Their debut memoir, Out of Step, won a 2018 Lambda Literary Award and the 2017 Non/Fiction Prize.
Caroline Bock: Anthony, you are an Army veteran, and Suzanne, you are a retired public school arts teacher. Both of you came to writing somewhat as a second act -- why?
Anthony Moll: I'd say the army wasn't a first act. It was a prelude. I didn't join the army so I could be a soldier, I joined the Army, like a lot of people across America, to escape poverty, so that I could live the sort of life in which I could become a writer. I've been pursuing it for a long time and just had to go through that route to get to writer. I'm in my late 30s, but I think I'm very much still in my first act.
Suzanne Feldman: I don't even know what act I'm in. Like Anthony, I have been writing for a really long time. And even before I knew how to write, I was telling stories. When I started teaching, I knew that I wanted to write, but I also knew that I didn't want to teach creative writing. I have a degree in Fine Arts, so that's what I used to get a job teaching art for almost 30 years. I could go home and write, because I didn't have to bring work home to grade. Now that I’m retired, all I do is write. So it's a long game. I don't know if it's a prelude or even an act; I think it's the whole play.
CB: Suzanne, you tend to write long. Some stories are essentially novellas. What draws you to longform fiction?
SF: I cannot shut up. I like the arc of the story. I like following it to its end. The last story, “Goat Island” – a novella – took me almost 10 years to get right. You just have to take your time. It's a long game, and it's a long story.
CB: Anthony, many poems in your collection share the same title, which is also the title of the collection. Why that choice?
AM: Isn't it lovely to open the table of contents and have more than half of it doing the same thing over and over again? It's visually and typographically gorgeous to me. It also asks the readers to think about the nature of repetition. Part of the work is also about climate disaster or disaster in general, and when you hear something repeated over and over again, by the 30th time you read it, you often just ignore it. And that reflects the way we respond to being constantly barraged with messages about disaster. The first time we hear it, we panic. And then we're like, Oh, this again.
CB: Anthony, you mix "high" culture and "low" – in one poem you are talking about Denny's and the B-side of Bee Gee tracks; in the next you are referencing poet Mary Oliver and author John Berger. How do you approach this mixture?
AM: I think writers should be honest about the world around us. A lot of people tie their self worth to their status, and they tie some of that status to the media that they consume, or at least the media, they say they consume. But most of us, artists in particular, like a lot of different types of media. So I am just being honest. I like theater and opera and art museums and John Berger and mythology, but I also like Game of Thrones and Carly Rae Jepsen. And I don't think I'm the only one to do it. Whitman was doing it, Eliot was doing it.
CB: Suzanne, you write quite a bit about women artists. How does their work inform yours?
SF: The 1970s were a pretty fundamental time for me. I was in college; the Vietnam War was more or less ending. And it was so full of turmoil. Feminism had gotten its feet on the ground. In the early 80s, the Guerrilla Girls were attacking museums for not having any women artists. And it's still an issue. There's still just a fraction of women artists in museums and galleries. Yet most of the students in art school are women. So it's this bizarre combination of circumstances that are utterly unfair. In the work itself, I love searching for the unspoken meaning inside a painting.
CB: Can both of you speak about how your identity as LGBTQIA+ writers shapes your work?
AM: There’s a poem in the book called “Asking for PrEP” that people often ask about. PrEP is a treatment for preventing the spread of HIV. But I don't think that's a particularly queer poem. It's about gay sex, but I think it’s really about optimism. In preparing, you're imagining a future where the world is not ending. But I think that the queerest poems are the ones that are not about obvious things like HIV prevention. The poems about having a body and being observed are, for me, the queerest poems in the book.
SF: When I started teaching, I was closeted. I worked in a rural school, and it was scary. Over the amount of time that I taught, it was like watching the arc of justice for gay students. And although there was a rough transition, which I was definitely part of, we forged a safe place for queer kids. I still try to put lesbians in all my books, because I'm fighting the patriarchy with every word I write.
Watch the entire interview on YouTube here:
About The Inner Loop: The Inner Loop is a literary reading series and network for creative writers in the Washington, D.C. metro area. We aim to create a space for both emerging and established writers to connect with their community, and to transform the written word into a shared experience through the act of reading aloud. This interview is part of our Author’s Corner campaign, promoting local authors publishing with indie presses.