Kona Morris Interview with Karen Stefano
Kona, tell me about your journey as a writer. How did you get started?
Venting secret thoughts away from drama-monger parents into a diary, which eventually evolved into stories, which evolved into study. It took a long time for me to realize what I had been doing my entire life, feverishly, as hobby, was in fact a field worthy to call career. I actually remember the exact moment that thought first occurred to me—I was sitting under an enormous willow tree at Harvard University, where I had been sneaking into lecture halls to steal high class education. I had just finished reading Nabokov’s Lolita, and I was in the midst of soaking up every last drop of the post-script in my copy, in which I found a short essay he wrote on the process of bringing Lolita into the world. For whatever reason, reading about his journey incited revelation in me and for the first time I saw writing as a career, worthy of study and degrees. Several months of Greyhounds and hitchhiking around the country later, I found myself up in Fairbanks, Alaska, where I helped to put together my first ever writing group, which we called “Write Trash.” That experience catapulted me into the writing side of the literary world and I haven’t stopped since.
Have you hit any bumps along the writing road?
Of course. We’ve all experienced writer’s guilt. When you’ve let days, weeks, sometimes months slip by without feeling the calling. And there’s nothing worse than seeing yourself stuck in a cliché. And worse still when you’re working on a paralyzing novel that continues to haunt away your inspiration. Yeah, blows. But that’s life, in all its hilarious tragedy and tragic hilarity, and our job is in the reaction, determination, and discipline to bring ourselves back. And besides, there are few things that feel better than when you do dive back in after a dry spell and amaze yourself all over again by how effortlessly words you didn't know you had enter your fingertips. Makes it all worthwhile.
And as far as advice for how to overcome those bumps, I would say best thing to do is just force yourself until you no longer need to be forced. Because there is no alternative to sitting down and actually doing the work. Like Jean-Paul Sartre said, we are nothing but our actions. So if you don't act, you are nothing.
I think it’s also important to listen to your mood and figure out what kind of writing you do best at different times of the day. Whenever I find it difficult to focus in on a single piece, I often have multiple files open that I hop back and forth between. The important thing is to keep up your inspiration because if you are bored writing something, then your readers will be bored reading it.
What was the inspiration for “Pissed?”
Ha. I like to claim fiction for everything I write. It’s safer that way, and it puts the focus where it should be—on the story, not on mine nor anyone else's ego. But like most of my material, “Pissed” did emerge from my real observations and experiences. A culmination of teaching far too many comp classes to procrastinating students, I guess. And yes, sometimes they do try to talk to me while I’m peeing.
What was the inspiration for “The Day I Didn’t Ride the Bus?”
Same answer, only this time, aside from a few slight name changes, this piece could be published as 100% non-fiction. Yay for impoverished childhoods and bad neighborhoods. But I am a firm believer that one of the biggest perks of being a writer is getting to turn even the shittiest situations into material for stories. It's so much more than mere therapy; it's literally becoming the author of your own life and the god of all the bullshit that has ever touched you.
What are the qualities that you believe make a person a good literary citizen?
Hmm… What an interesting question. I guess in terms of literary citizenship, I would say it’s most important that we support each other by buying, reading, and talking about books, writing reviews, and doing everything we can to strengthen the community and be involved with events such as readings and book signings.
But in terms of writing, I think it’s important that we listen to the lessons from our elders of the page, while at the same time allowing ourselves the liberty to experiment and reinvent the art of writing. We need to know our history, but also take control of writing it for the future.
What books have you read lately and loved?
Steven Dunn’s Potted Meat is goddamn stunning. He reminds us of the power of voice. How voice can transcend any genre, any topic. Voice can take the smallest line, no matter how insignificant, and make it boom so big that whole multiverses drip from the residue.
Reading Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel series The Sandman is a life altering experience. It brings poetry and art together in the most profound way imaginable. With everything from Greek mythology to Shakespeare’s muses to Mark Twain in San Francisco, it takes you on a ride through human psychology and history alike. Greatest graphic novel of all time. Read it.
I am also constantly re-reading my favorites, ever inching my way through the genius of Joyce, cummings, Baudelaire, Poe, Miller, Morrison, Thompson, Abbey, Woolf, Wallace, Nabokov, Márquez, Ellison, Shelley. So many lessons to learn that I get something new every time I go back.
What are your aspirations as a writer?
One of my favorite Ray Bradbury quotes is: “You fail only if you stop writing.” The beauty of that line is that it puts us in charge of our success, not the industry, not fame, not money. So I guess ultimately that’s it; I just want to have created enough material to feel like I did my job, fulfilled the calling. But of course a book deal wouldn’t hurt.
What are your aspirations as a human being?
Wow, this one could take a while. Like so many others, about a year ago I heard the calling of Senator Bernie Sanders and became more involved with the political world than I ever have before in my adult life. After working my ass off through the process in Colorado, I was elected to be a National Delegate for Bernie at the 2016 Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia. Not that I wasn’t aware of it before, but that experience alone opened my eyes in such a fierce and irreversible way to the level of corruption of the U.S. government. And then add on the Black Lives Matter movement (please go watch Ava DuVernay’s brilliant and enraging documentary 13th on Netflix IMMEDIATELY), and the current protest of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota to honor their water treaties and stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from desecrating their sacred land and contaminating their water, and now Amy Goodman, the award-winning journalist and host of Democracy Now is facing PRISON for doing her job and reporting on the Standing Rock protest. Needless to say, I’m beside myself right now with revolution, and the heart-aching compulsion to overthrow this bullshit government and its demoralized puppetry for environmental-terrorizing corporations, so that we can start anew. I feel like I’m on the precipice of becoming the revolutionary I’ve always wanted to be. So yeah, pretty high aspirations as a human right now.
Tell me something about yourself that might surprise me.
I’d rather eat a (preferably spicy) kosher dill pickle with a slice of sharp cheddar cheese than lobster. Any day of the week. And I like condiments more than food, particularly hot sauce. I’m also currently working as the booking manager for an unbelievably talented Denver-based rock band by the name of Eldren. And I’m thinking about becoming a professional Atheist.
Kona Morris, thank you!
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