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The Brooklyn Quarterly

July 29, 2013

Jane and Tristan

The Brooklyn Quarterly is a new online publication that aspires to fulfill the promise of internet publishing – providing not just yet another venue for emerging writers to showcase their work, but to foster a community – a social network, if you will – of “writers, professionals, activists, entrepreneurs, and scholars who believe in the power of narrative and the critical importance of public intellectuals rather than an exclusive intelligentsia.” This is ambitious stuff in the anti-intellectual times we inhabit, in which intelligence can be a liability, and everything from “literature” to entertainment to politics is pitched to the lowest common denominator. But founding editors Jane Greenaway Carr and Tristan Snell do something that other less utopian and more commercial (read cynical) media don’t do – they trust their audience to want to think, to embrace challenge, and perhaps to grow as a result.

The preview issue of TBQ currently online features a first-person memoir of the 2011 Tahrir Square protests, poetry, an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, short fiction, and personal essays from a small constellation of rising stars in letters and politics. If this is the preview issue, we can’t wait to see what’s next.

Among those rising stars are the founding editors, two sharp individuals who have directed their considerable talents and acumen toward this ambitious endeavor.

Jane is a Brooklyn-based editor and writer. In addition to her work with TBQ, Jane is the social media editor of interdisciplinary e-journal Archive Journal. She spent some time in book publishing, planning media campaigns for writers ranging from Toni Morrison to Tori Amos. Her work has appeared in a number of literary, trade and academic publications. She has an A.B. from Princeton, an M.F.A. from Columbia, an M.A. from the University of Virginia, and a Ph.D. from New York University, where she is a postdoctoral fellow in English. When not turning her dissertation on American literary activism into a book, she is completing an essay collection on disaster and A Voodoo of Sunflowers, a poetry manuscript.

Tristan is an editor, novelist, and lawyer. After graduating from Princeton University and the University of Virginia School of Law, he worked as a patent litigator and also represented high-tech startups. While in private practice, he worked on the team that secured the first writs of habeas corpus for six detainees at Guantanamo Bay, in the case of Boumediene v. Bush. Tristan has completed his first novel, Publicity Stunt, for which he recently secured representation. He lives in Brooklyn.

There are just a few days left to back The Brooklyn Quarterly’s Kickstarter Campaign. Learn more about the lively minds behind this new publication, then click that link and show them your support.

1. What is your hometown?


I was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. Even though I’ve spent most of my adult life in New York, being from the South has shaped a lot of who I am and who I want to become. Both of my parents are from Mississippi, so I spent a lot of time there when I was growing up. I think of Kosciusko as a kind of hometown, because that’s where we spent holidays with my grandparents (universally the most loving people I’ve ever met) and Oxford as well, because that’s where I had my first non-babysitting job (I was an intern for The Oxford American before it moved to Arkansas).


Purcellville, Virginia.  At the time it was a small, rural town just outside the Washington DC metro area, near the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 25 minutes from the Appalachian Trail — and now it’s been swallowed up into suburbia.

2. With what fictional character do you most identify?


It’s hard to answer this question for present-day me without thinking about past-tense me. So here goes – I’m going to gather a chorus of characters who have been touchstones over the years: Anne of Green Gables (I’m playing the redhead card), Vicky Austin in Madeleine L’Engle’s The Young Unicorns, Frankie in Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding, Jane Eyre, Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, Sally Lockhart in The Ruby in the Smoke and Emma Sheridan in Louise Fitzhugh’s Nobody’s Family is Going to Change. I’m especially attached to Emma because Louise Fitzhugh (who wrote Harriet the Spy and who is also from Memphis but lived most of her adult life in NYC) nails it: as a white woman, she empathizes with a protagonist who doesn’t share her own racial identity and captures cross-racial friendships generated by different kinds of “click” moments experienced by adolescent feminists. She was doing intersectionality in YA long before it became an acknowledged thing in the academy or public discourse about feminism. Plus the book is laugh-out-loud funny.


Holden Caulfield — just kidding. Probably some combination of Yossarian in Catch-22 and Frank Bascombe in Richard Ford’s novels.

3. In the movie of your life, cast an actor to play you.


Oh, I am so playing the redhead card again. When I worked in publishing, I had a boss who always used to tell me I looked like Lauren Ambrose when she played Claire Fisher in Six Feet Under—which made me smile because she’s ravishing, brash and smart. In my heart of hearts, though, I think I’d pick Julianne Moore, circa Cookie’s Fortune or An Ideal Husband.


Young, pre-Bourne-Identity Matt Damon — back when his characters were smartasses instead of taciturn action heroes.

4. What work of art speaks to your soul?


Good lord, I could go on here forever, so I’m going to write these down before I can overthink it. Rosanne Cash’s “The World Unseen.” There’s this one lyric, “I will look for you in Memphis and the miles between, I will look for you in morphine and in dreams, I will look for you in the rhythm of my bloodstream.” I’ve never heard a more eloquent or haunting description of having a complicated soul connection to people or place. Giorgione’s Laura. I like to look at it and imagine how the subject would have painted the artist if she had a chance to reverse the roles. Or the Matisse designs at the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence.


Pretty much any of Brahms’s major works. If I have to pick just one, Symphony No. 4.

5. What books are you currently reading or recommending?


Reading: Dawn Powell, The Wicked Pavilion; Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking; Ellen Willis, No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays

Re-reading: Maggie Nelson, Jane: A Murder; Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Recommending: Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack & Honey; Cheryl Strayed, Wild; Dawn Powell, A Time To Be Born; Nicole Cooley, The Afflicted Girls


Reading: I’m almost always reading 3 or 4 books at once:

— The Cathedral and the Bazaar, by Eric Raymond
— Public Intellectuals, a History of Decline, by Richard Posner
— The Price of Inequality, by Joseph Stiglitz
— The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn, by Suleiman Osman

The books I’ve probably been recommending the most in the last 6-9 months are two by Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus.

As you can see, I really need to get some more fiction and poetry in the mix.

6. What song or album is currently in heavy rotation on your iPod?


I just went to a wedding where the couple’s first dance was to the Scissor Sisters’ “Best in Me,” and I don’t know whether it was the occasion or the song itself that got to me, but I can’t stop playing it. I’ve also been fantasizing about singing Nellie McKay’s “Mother of Pearl” or Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ “Falling or Flying” in a karaoke bar, whatever that portends. Two albums I’ve also been really into lately are Garrison Starr & Jay Nash’s Live at Sun Studio and Eden Brent’s Mississippi Number One.


Lately it’s been a lot of two self-titled albums, from Delta Spirit and Middle Brother. I also have a few old reliables that I put on when I work (and have for literally over a decade) and thus are almost always in heavy rotation: Cookin’ at the Plugged Nickel by Miles Davis et al., the collected solo piano works of Debussy, and a recording of a live concert from Medeski Martin & Wood that was done sometime last century.

7. What’s the last movie that made you cry?


Remote Area Medical, a documentary about a mobile medical clinic in Appalachia (filmed by Jeff Reichert & Farihah Zaman, the same people who did our Kickstarter video) and the ESPN Nine for IX film about Pat Summitt. I saw both this summer but don’t remember which came first.


I don’t know if I can remember exactly.  The only one I can even think of in the last 15-20 years would be Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  One of the greatest movies ever made and just extremely moving.

8. Cat person or dog person?


Dog. I love my current apartment, where pets are verboten. In my dreams, I have two dogs, one named Atticus (because ever since I read To Kill a Mockingbird in 5th grade, I just can’t help myself, clichés about Southern writer-girls be damned) and the other Delilah (in honor of a German shepherd my mom had a little girl).


Dog person, all the way.  Bigger dogs, preferably.  Little ones too if they’re not too yappy.  And besides which, I’m allergic to cats.

9. What is more important, truth or kindness?


Truth, in a photo finish. I think too often the most destructive kinds of un-truth masquerade as kindness.


When I was younger I would’ve said truth, without hesitation.  Now I’d say kindness.  Truth is an elusive thing, and yet kindness is even rarer.  Along with empathy (and there’s a lot of overlap there; one could even define them as synonyms), it’s what we most need in the world, always.

10. How do you define sin?


The conscious choice to reject empathy.


Breaking the golden rule. Simple, and yet everyone does it all the time; some more than others.

11. How do you define virtue?


Living with determination to value others and value yourself, without compromise. The recognition that beauty, creativity and belief matter even if (or especially when) they generate conflict or defy definition.


Adhering to the golden rule. Plus, more specifically: being responsible, doing one’s part, stepping up when others won’t, and being part of something larger than oneself.

Or to put it differently, I recently figured out that the most concise way to sum up my moral worldview and commitments is this: We can either take care of people, or we can take advantage of people, and every day that choice is up to each of us. And we have too much of the latter and not enough of the former.

12. Design your headstone: What does it say? What does it look like?


I’ve never been a gender conformist or liked pink all that much, but I remember the first time I ever saw pink granite when I was little. I loved how it seemed like it was a different color depending on the light at certain times of day. So I imagine my headstone made out of that, shaped something like a Barbara Hepworth sculpture. I don’t know what it would say. Maybe Margaret Fuller’s line: “Let them be sea captains, if you will.”


Yikes. I don’t know if I necessarily need a headstone. To the extent I’ve thought about the subject, I’d like to be buried under the shade of a big tree. But to answer the question: I’d want it to be simple, and I hope that I’ll do well enough by my loved ones that they’ll think of something nice to say about me.

Bonus Question: Who would you like to see answer these questions?


Since this question has no parameters I’m tempted to list a bunch of dead people I’d love to hear from, like Ida B. Wells or Amelia Earhart, but it’s hard to imagine them having the time or patience to tell me about their souls or their musical tastes. I like verbal polymaths on or off the page, so I’ll say essayist-novelist-journalist Meghan Daum, writer-songmistress-badass Kathleen Hanna or poet-academic-performer-TBQ contributing editor Joshua Bennett.


I’m assuming this means someone who can currently answer them.  I can think of all sorts of long-dead greats I’d love to see answer these.  Or answer anything, for that matter.  But today?  I’d go with the writer Michael Lewis: always a delight to read, and he has a set of interests and views and commitments that overlap a lot with mine, along with the sly humor and irreverence that comes from being an outsider who was accidentally allowed inside the castle and lived to tell the tale.


The Brooklyn Quarterly




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