Iowa Writes

ALEA ADIGWEME
A Conversation with Kerry Howley, an interview


AA: Early in Thrown, the narrator says, "I remember well that first real conversation with Sean, wherein we lunched on satisfactory dive bar burgers and I told him I thought his performance an extraordinary physical analogue to phenomenological inquiry." Kit is breezily cerebral in a way that I find exhilarating and validating.
        The ease with which Kit deploys Continental philosophy, the confidence she shows in her scholarship—particularly in the face of naysaying faculty members—is a type of intellectual fierceness often portrayed in print and embodied in the classroom as "masculine." In an interview with Fightland, you mentioned that your real-life "persona"—being that of "a small, soft-spoken woman given to ironic asides"—was not "the one this book needed." Do you find the differences between Kerry the Narrator and Kit the Narrator to be so great? Is it simply a matter of the latter being more ripe for comedic ribbing?

KH: I do find the difference to be significant. I'm thinking specifically of Kit's earnestness, her overeducated naivete, her inability to see the way her hyper-analytical nature separates her from other people. And there is what I might call her all-in-ness. Her ideas about artistry, for instance—that one cannot both have a family and make great art—well, I hope that's not true. But I was just talking about the limits of self-knowledge, so maybe I'm not the best person to ask. Thrown needed a big, impassioned, earnest voice willing to relate Heideggerian disclosure to a Davenport cage fight. Do I, Kerry Howley, think disclosure a real phenomenon that renders the fight intelligible? Absolutely. But I can also see the absurdity in the juxtaposition.

AA: Early in Thrown, the narrator says, "I remember well that first real conversation with Sean, wherein we lunched on satisfactory dive bar burgers and I told him I thought his performance an extraordinary physical analogue to phenomenological inquiry." Kit is breezily cerebral in a way that I find exhilarating and validating.
        The ease with which Kit deploys Continental philosophy, the confidence she shows in her scholarship—particularly in the face of naysaying faculty members—is a type of intellectual fierceness often portrayed in print and embodied in the classroom as "masculine." In an interview with Fightland, you mentioned that your real-life "persona"—being that of "a small, soft-spoken woman given to ironic asides"—was not "the one this book needed." Do you find the differences between Kerry the Narrator and Kit the Narrator to be so great? Is it simply a matter of the latter being more ripe for comedic ribbing?

KH: I do find the difference to be significant. I'm thinking specifically of Kit's earnestness, her overeducated naivete, her inability to see the way her hyper-analytical nature separates her from other people. And there is what I might call her all-in-ness. Her ideas about artistry, for instance—that one cannot both have a family and make great art—well, I hope that's not true. But I was just talking about the limits of self-knowledge, so maybe I'm not the best person to ask. Thrown needed a big, impassioned, earnest voice willing to relate Heideggerian disclosure to a Davenport cage fight. Do I, Kerry Howley, think disclosure a real phenomenon that renders the fight intelligible? Absolutely. But I can also see the absurdity in the juxtaposition.

AA: Another incisive observation by Kit: "The challenge of his young adulthood was not finding employment but finding fellow playmates, because the kind of person willing to play is harder to find than the kind of person willing to work, paid work being the province of the anxious, the routine bound, those seeking safe harbor in a single static wooden desk." Kit could have been speaking about herself (and her fixation on aging, family and never going home again), me, or any number of early-career working artists I know. While the past few years for you have been filled with the types of "milestones" considered markers of a "successful" young adulthood, how much, if at all, was Kit an outlet for any anxieties you felt before or during your time in the Nonfiction Writing Program or while researching and writing Thrown?

KH: When I reread that line I think about first finding the fighters, and what a relief it was to be in their presence: to have found these men so devoted to play. I don't think the anxieties that drove me to them are anxieties that ever go away. I'm still aging, it turns out, and still trying to balance art and family. I don't like going home.

AA: What made you decide to keep your narrator a woman? Is it that making her a man would have "gone too far," or is there something about "taking up space" as a woman that was essential to your narrative?

KH: I didn't actually know that Kit was a woman until I had finished the book. I asked my three most trusted readers: Is Kit a woman? Two said "yes."
        But while Kit might have gone either way, being a woman made it easier for me, Kerry Howley, to focus on the fighters rather than on myself. I'm thinking specifically of my time with Iowa's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Club. I started training at the same time as another woman, an undergraduate, and we were absolutely terrible. We laughed through the entire class, laughed as we were submitted, laughed as we got caught. There were men starting at the same time as us, and they were getting submitted, and they were . . . not laughing. There was just so much more at stake for them. There's a reason that so much writing about mixed martial arts involves the (male) author desperately yearning for the approval of the (male) fight coach. I had none of this emotional baggage to work through as I shadowed the fighters. I did not care if the coach thought I was man enough. And this is why I will never write a book about supermodels.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


ALEA ADIGWEME

Alea Adigweme is a graduate of the Nonfiction Writing Workshop at the University of Iowa.  Her interview with Kerry Howley, author of Thrown (Sarabande Books), was originally published on The Iowa Review's blog.

This page was first displayed
on July 27, 2015

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