A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Kristine Esser Slentz

image from kristineesserslentz.com

Q1: When did you start writing and who has influenced you the most?

Kristine: I truly struggle to remember when I started writing – I feel like I’ve always done it even before I could scratch out words. My most vivid memory would be when I had a Lion King journal and tried so hard to write in it but all that came out were scribbles.

I would say my current influences consist of many hybrid and experimental artists. Those are predominately Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Luzene Hill. Both work between multiple mediums in an abstract-yet-accessible way. I’m always in awe at their work and constantly revisit their art. 

Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Kristine: I think it would be when I was deciding on my major for the commuter college I first attended — Purdue North Central now Purdue Northwest. It was when I really started to think about what would make me happy in a career as opposed to what was expected. Before this time, the options were or felt like no higher education or rather traditional, lucrative positions like jobs in the medical or law fields. 

Q3: Who has helped you most with your writing and career?

Kristine: Well, there are those who directly impacted it by their presence, like/such as/including/etc. my eighth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Farrell, and one of my MFA professors, Laura Hinton. Mrs. Farrell allowed me to be creative without restriction or judgment, and as a student with a learning disability, this was incredibly freeing. She supported my work and held it up as an example; I was forever changed. Professor Hinton challenged my work in ways that I hadn’t experienced previously in academia that not only pushed me to grow but also encouraged more of my voice. There was a way I could simply illustrate the more complex and also display organized chaos as it made sense to me, a person inherently outside of the traditional literary cannon. 

Then there are those whose words guided me. For that, it would be Tim Dlugos and Dorothy Parker. I found both of these prolific writers by accident. Parker while scouring one of the few places I was allowed to venture on my own, the library. There was a book of collected poems from her and a book of various writers’ lovers I checked out more than once. Her spunk and charm drew me in and I knew I wanted to express myself in the same way. I discovered Dlugos when I visited Columbia College in Chicago; at the time, it was the only higher education institution that had a poetry major. I was given a lit magazine with David Trinidad and his biography mentioned Tim Dlugos. At this time I was leaving the cult I was raised in and was reconfiguring my entire value system. Dlugos was able to see things in me that I had yet to see (like being queer for example) and because of that, I reread his first chapbook High There, every year.

Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?

Kristine:

I grew up between Northwest Indiana and South/Southwest Chicago due to/because of/etc. divorced parents). This mostly means Midwestern sensibilities. LaPorte, Indiana is a lake-filled town nicknamed Maple City for the extensive amount of maple trees in the area. She once was a booming factory town and while there are still active factories there, it has changed. The part of town I grew up in was once a predominately Polish community that has transitioned into more of a Mexican community. I grew during this transition. As a kid, being the only Jehovah’s Witness in class there — I have since been effectively excommunicated from the religion —  left me with a lot of complex feelings of home, which I think many people have in one way or another. It was visiting my dad when I would spend time in Chicago and its suburbs. This offered another kind of diversity, I got to see the All-American lifestyles of the burbs and the creativity (and sometimes troublesome adventures) of the city. My family in this state consisted of my father’s familial additions, a stepmom, and four step-siblings, which again created many complex feelings of home. All of these experiences combined to craft me into, and continue to, a person and the writer I am now. 

My parents are a manager of a shop (factory) floor, an LPN nurse, and a middle school teacher who all had a profound impact on my childhood — not only their professions but also their ethnic and national backgrounds. My mother is an immigrant (British and Maltese), my father was raised between Canada and America with a German father, and my stepmother’s family was heavily rooted in their Polish ancestry. The biggest connection I’ve seen between the various influences is class. Living between the lower-middle class to brushing up against poverty at times, class has shaped how I viewed privilege, wealth, value, and education. These are elements I still grapple with every day. In my graduate program, I took a class with Cynthia Cruz on the melancholia of class — she now has a book by the same name which I highly recommend– that spurred this internal dialog to continue for me. 

Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to be?

Kristine: My first book, women, depose, is something I’m pretty proud of. It came out last year from FlowerSong Press. For me, it was a necessary project that kind of felt like it just appeared as needed. The book jumps  off a legal document from a sexual harassment case and as a whole examines what it means to be a female-presenting person in this patriarchal world, which most often involves some sort of violence. 

There are also a couple of paintings, “Blood Baby” and “Love Jail Letters,” that I particularly like. “Blood Baby”  addresses miscarriage and generally women’s reproductive health issues while “Love Jail Letters” displays  handwritten correspondence while a partner was in county jail. Both work to show the complexities within a seemingly uncontrollable situation. 

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Kristine: Ah, there are so many things! I like to cook midwestern classics (that means casseroles), gin craft cocktails, cat cuddles, and watch well-done rom coms. If I can, I also enjoy long walks in the park — yes, cliché, I know

Q7: What is a favorite line/stanza from your writings?

                                                                     that's when
                                                                     I realize My
                                                                     favorite colors
                                                                    are the shades
                                                               of a healing bruise

Q8: What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song that always comes back to you as an inspiration?

Kristine: There’s so much good music in the world and it’s important to have a mix of genres. A song that keeps returning to me is “Silver Springs” by Fleetwood Mac. I fell in love with this song when I was going through one of my first heartbreaks at 15 years old. The lyric “was I such a fool” gave me so much power in the moment of giving my body to someone and them moving on to someone else -- not just quickly but more compatible. I knew it made sense but the sorrow was still there nonetheless. This theme stays with me and comes back from time to time with this song. 

Q9: Do you have any recent or upcoming books, events, etc that you'd like to promote?

Kristine: Adverse Abstraction is an artist series I began with my friend and former MFA cohort, Matt Gahler. This series focuses on building community within  experimental and hybrid creators (or even more formal, traditional works!) which means not just writers but musicians, sound artists, bands, painters, jewelers, drawers, audiovisual pieces, and more. We meet every third Friday of the month at Otto’s Shrunken Head in the East Village. Currently, we are accepting submissions for 2023 features. Please email us at adverseabstraction@gmail.com with your bio, headshot, and 3-5 pieces of your work. 

http://kristineesserslentz.com/publications/






By davidlonan1

David writes poetry, short stories, and writings that'll make you think or laugh, provoking you to examine images in your mind. To submit poetry, photography, art, please send to feversofthemind@gmail.com. Twitter: @davidLOnan1 + @feversof Facebook: DavidLONan1

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