Cynthia Arrieu-King and Lily Hoang

Cindy Arrieu-King and Lily Hoang
Cynthia Arrieu-King and Lily Hoang

This conversation between 1913 Press authors Cynthia Arrieu-King and Lily Hoang began with their latest books. Unlikely Conditions (1913 Press) is Cynthia Arrieu-King’s collaboration with the late Hillary Gravendyk. Lily Hoang’s A Bestiary was published by Cleveland State University Poetry Center.

Cynthia Arrieu-King: Where did these essays begin for you? What does essay writing allow you to do that poetry might not? Or does it matter to you at all?

Lily Hoang: Form and genre are really important to me, actually. I am insistent when I call these essays—and it all goes back to etymology, right? To essai: to trial, to experiment—even though it’s already been classified as both poetry and fiction. The essay declares itself as a challenge, to self and to form, by definition. This isn’t fiction’s concern, at all, and I’m a fiction writer, first and foremost, and so the rhetorical qualities of the essay—its ethos, pathos, and logos—were also foreign concepts to me, things that I had to learn. I think the essay demands a self-rigor that isn’t necessary in fiction, which is not to say that fiction isn’t rigorous! (I’m not really qualified to talk about poetry in the least so I’ll leave that kind of thinking to the poets and scholars.) All of which is to say: the essays in A Bestiary are essays, intentionally so, I argue they adhere to form and follow the rules of the genre. But that wasn’t in question at all, sorry.

Caryl Pagel with Lily Hoang

Caryl Pagel and Lily Hoang
Caryl Pagel and Lily Hoang

This interview between Caryl Pagel and Lily Hoang is being published in conjunction with an Essay Press chapbook focused on dialogues with Cleveland State University Poetry Center authors, to be released on December 15th.

Caryl Pagel: A Bestiary is brimming with moments of memory, panic, humor, sarcasm, and joy but at its heart is an elegy (for your sister, for a kind of idealized love, and for the “other” Lily). Could you speak to the ways in which this grief accumulated and how nonfiction can work as a site of tribute or mourning?

Lily Hoang: My grief accumulated because—as I say in the book—I compartmentalize all my problems. I just focus on work. And then there must be a breaking point, and maybe that’s what this book was for me: all my avoidances from the past three years, coming forward in all their hurtful splendor. I think nonfiction is a natural space for tribute and mourning: both require an honest reckoning of another and of self.