The Paris Review

Writing Postpartum: A Conversation between Kate Zambreno and Sarah Manguso

Sarah Manguso (left) and Kate Zambreno (right)

Kate Zambreno’s oeuvre is not just a series of books but a body of thought, an uninterrupted exhortation on incompleteness and the intersections of life, death, time, memory, and silence. She challenges my own tendency to treat pieces of writing as discrete objects rather than divisions of consciousness, and I’ve long felt an intimate and continuous access to her mind, so I wanted to ask her about her newest book, Appendix Project, a collection of talks and essays written over the course of the year following the publication of Book of Mutter, her book on her mother, which took her over a decade to write. Her next book, Screen Tests, an excerpt of which appears in the Spring issue of The Paris Review, is forthcoming this July. —Sarah Manguso

MANGUSO

As for publishing a “small, minor book,” to quote you from earlier … maybe we could start there? I keep trying to write a Big Book, a grand book, a centerpiece around which the rest of my books will gather, but either my fear of death or my general inability to be grand prevents this. And I’m almost always more interested in the small, minor books of people’s oeuvres, anyway. You also work in small forms—the appendix, the miscellany, the essay formed from small compositional units and assembled over a long period.

ZAMBRENO

I am more interested in the fragment, the notes, what is ongoing or continuing. My desire in this new writing life of the past few years has been to be small, to stay small, thinking of Robert Walser. To write about what is ephemeral, the daily, and to use it to attempt to think through the crisis of the self and what is beyond the self. When I moved to New York, now six years ago, I felt paralyzed by the prospect of a first-person novel, which I was under contract for, and anxious about publishing’s desire to have the new “big” book, one that everyone talks about, that is on all of the lists, that is part of the conversation, where the self written is assumed to be the same self as the author, and the self is stable, charismatic, and articulate. I felt blocked from the novel for years, I just took notes upon notes, and eventually the novel became about block and

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