Interviewed by John Haggerty
Read Raven Leilani’s fiction piece, Persimmon
John: The narrator talks of the casual intimacy between women. Do you think that intra-gender friendships will always be easier than those that cross gender lines?
Raven: I don’t know that they are always easier, but I think there’s something to be said about having a shorthand. The instant camaraderie I wrote about here isn’t something I’ve felt in every female friendship, but you know it the moment you find it. It’s the immediate recognition of a similar lived experience in another person. It feels exciting, like a conspiracy. This piece came out of my own refusal to qualify femaleness and blackness only by their relationship to trauma, but I think when women become immediately intertwined like this there is a sense of relief. And the relief comes from being seen, from recognizing in someone else an experience with the hunger, fear, and madness that is routine to any woman who asks for more.
Oddly enough, I thought Woman #3 was the most interesting of the bunch. What does that say about me?
Maybe you like angry women! If so, I think that’s wonderful. I love an angry woman. Angry men are everywhere. Their violence, resentment and insecurity are valorized and sweetened into ‘personal growth.’ We’re meant to empathize with them, even as their anger results in our erasure. Female anger is still a radical thing, a hysterical thing. Woman #3 was my way in. She’s a television staple, the unsexy, hyper-practical scold. She’s unlikeable. And I think when we talk about an unlikeable woman, we’re talking about a vocal woman, a woman who is allowed the latitude to be human and indulge her anger, make mistakes. So much of what makes an acceptable woman is wrapped up in socially mandated performance, and if you put that pressure up against the reality of the casual violence we wade through every day, it’s absurd. So it’s heartening you engaged with Woman #3, who I hoped would represent the kind of woman who is uninterested in that sort of kabuki.
One of the things I admire about this piece is the headlong nature of the prose, and how it reflects the rapid, almost reckless progress of this relationship. Do you think explicitly about language and style as you’re writing a story, or do you just let things unfold organically?
Thank you! I kind of just let it happen. The writing I love most wears its love of texture and style on its sleeve, and when I write I do my best to write what I would want to read myself. I started out writing poetry, and with poetry, economy of space is so crucial that now when I write prose I just want to hit the ground running. Also, I get paranoid about losing my reader and I want to get to them as soon as I can.
Would the end effect of, as Woman #3 says, “just getting rid of them all” be positive or negative?
Upon the complete eradication of men, I’m convinced our hierarchy would shuffle until a different monster found a way to the top. I use the word monster affectionately. To be sure, I wouldn’t be one of them. So much of writing about the joy and failure of desperate, fully-realized women is wish-fulfillment. But the story of the monstrous woman who makes it to the top would be a story worth telling.