Interviewed by Jennifer “Ana” Robbins
Read Despy Boutris’ fiction piece, Dinner Guest
Ana: This piece, Dinner Guest, is a heart-wrenching piece with many allusions to personal and community responsibility, whether they be right or wrong, perceived or real. Right now, that sense of community is severed. What effects do you think this will have on that tribalism, that policing of those around us? Do you think it will make us more or less willing to accept what is different?
Despy: This work of flash fiction indeed addresses hatred and shaming marginalized groups—and I think you’re right to note that these acts look different in the COVID-era, when few people are gathering publicly. Of course we all know, though, that—even in relative isolation—people still find outlets to voice their hate, whether in small sub-communities or via the internet. Unfortunately, I don’t think the COVID will affect the people with hateful or conservative views in any meaningful way.
Throughout this piece and much of your most recent work, there is a consistent motif of water and each subject’s relationship to it. What first inspired you to explore water as a medium?
Good catch! Absolutely—water is one of my obsessions. I think this obsession stems, in part, from the fact that I grew up in California—a state perpetually in flames. Another reason for this obsession may be because I spent my summers working at a local lake, and that’s the landscape I tend to hark back to.
Many of my fictional speakers hint at being indoctrinated with strict—perhaps Evangelical—ideals, and thus the inclusion of water imagery also relates to proto-Christian notions of sin and cleansing.
Right now, you are working as a teacher at the University of Houston. How has that experience affected your worldview and your writing? How does that work compare to editing for both Gulf Coast and The West Review?
I didn’t know I had an interest in teaching or editing until arriving at the University of Houston—and now I have so much fun with both. I especially love talking about poems with my undergraduate students, who are so excited about writing and from whom I learn so much. Sometimes, writing can feel isolating, and they remind me how communal and supportive creation can be.
Editing for journals has been a blessing because it allowed me to learn about journals’ inner-workings. Publishing is so competitive and subjective, and I now know not to take journal rejections personally. Editing, too, has allowed me to learn of emerging writers who I may not have ever encountered otherwise—their writing continues to inspire me.
How do you want to see your career and work progress over the next five years? Do you have an ultimate goal, or are you content to follow the waters as they flow?
I’d love to have a book out and a completed second manuscript by then! And, ideally, I’ll be almost done with a PhD program—if I manage to get into one this year. Otherwise, I’m not sure: I hope to follow my interests and trust where they take me.