The Rumpus continues its Mini-Interview Project with Beth Alvarado, discussing Alvarado’s essay collection Anxious Attachments, the essay form itself, motherhood, and how writing and reading nonfiction can allow us to construct a self capable of looking beyond ourselves and toward others.
Rumpus: While there’s some pushback in revered circles about the personal essay being literature, there seems to be no stopping the CNF train. Why are people reading nonfiction?
Alvarado: For me, nonfiction is an exploration of the self in tension with the world. Reality is so much with us right now that we need a way of understanding it, and one way to understand it is to read how other people are interacting with it. I love essays where I can trace the way someone’s thoughts evolve. There’s a kind of intimacy with the mind that’s creating the work.
Rumpus: There’s an argument floating out there that the personal isn’t so important in this cultural moment.
Alvarado: I would go back to Carolyn Forché, who talks about the political and the personal coming together in the social realm. What’s happening in the world has weight in our personal lives, especially now: we can’t quit thinking about it; we’re acutely aware of the relationship between the two. But when I say “we,” I am really talking about the white writer, or at least about someone who has never been marginalized, someone who doesn’t realize that distinctions between the political and the personal are arbitrary, false even. Maybe that’s what essays can do: demand our attention, connect things that may seem random or disparate, help us see clearly. There’s a reason so many of us are turning to Baldwin, Lorde, Anzaldúa, and Rich to learn about what the essay form can give us. If the essay is the “mind on the page,” it also can be a way to transform old ways of thinking.
As always, Beth’s thoughtfulness and generosity has given us a lot to think about.