Q&A with Jess Stoner

1. If you were reviewing your own work, how would you describe its style or point of view?

There’s a balancing act between the emotional and the logical—the research and the gutpunch, the hearthurt.

2. Who are some of your favorite contemporary authors?

On the fiction-side of things, recent-ish books by Scholastique Mukasonga (Our Lady of the Nile), Porochista Khakpour (The Last Illusion), and Laird Hunt (Neverhome) have lingered with me. In the last two years, I’ve really gravitated towards nonfiction. Jill Leovy wrote the best and most important book I’ve read this year: Ghettoside. Other new-to-me nonfiction author-loves include Helen Thorpe (Soldier Girls), Jen Percy (Demon Camp), and Isabel Wilkerson (The Warmth of Other Suns). I’m finally starting to make my way through David Brion Davis’ oeuvre (just finished Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World)—reading him is like going to school (and getting schooled)—I find myself highlighting so much I never knew, wish I had known; it both amazes and shames me. Just the other day, I read a poem by Morgan Parker and immediately bought her collection, Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night. These books, there’s no way to describe them except to say: They’ve sparked a controlled burn inside of me.

3. If you were told you couldn't write anymore, what job would you pursue and why?

My (pipe) dream job doesn’t hinge on writing—it’s to serve in the state legislature. If I could have my name on a good bill, that does good work, I’d give up writing (for anyone but myself) in a second.

4. When you think of Austin, what comes to mind?

Some of the smartest and most creative, most generous people I have ever known. Malvern and BookPeople and BookWoman. Seeing Leslie & the Lys at Mohawk. A Ranch Hand from Torchy’s with a side of chipotle ranch mixed with Diablo sauce. Traffic. Gold Top Cider. Flightpath and for when I got up at 3am to write before work, Epoch. Allergies. Seeing Peelander Z in the Yellow Tent at Fun Fun Fun and having a hot dog with the band on Red River after. The most righteous advocates for women’s rights and health like Amy Hagstrom Miller, Andrea Grimes, Drew Stanley, and Jessica Luther. Maurice Chammah, from Mother Falcon, whose articles for various publications about the criminal justice system are superb. Scott Blackwood's See How Small and the book I just pre-ordered: Invisible Austin. The readings and get-togethers to get together to talk about books. That time an elderly woman got on the Lamar bus wearing a kitten mask and hissed at everyone who tried to sit next to her. 

5. Answer the question you wish we had asked.

I would encourage more writers (especially those coming out of MFA programs) to look outside of academia for work. You might think it’s just a different kind of soul-sucking, but it doesn’t have to be. As an employee for the state of Texas, I got to research and write about Merle Haggard—and what I wrote was read on the steps of the state capitol, in front of the Poet of the Common Man. As an education coordinator for a non-profit, I got to celebrate the poems 3rd graders wrote about tacos and fireworks. All while getting to work with really great people (many of whom were writers) and having a steady paycheck, health and dental insurance, and paid days off.