Interview with Eloise Grills,
Winner of the 2018 The Lifted Brow Prize for Experimental Nonfiction
THE LIFTED BROW & RMIT NON/FICTIONLAB PRIZE FOR EXPERIMENTAL NON-FICTION:
“an annual writing prize that aims to unearth new, audacious, authentic and/or inauthentic voices from both Australia and the world.”
THE LIFTED BROW: “a not-for-profit literary publisher based in Melbourne, Australia focused on finding, publishing and championing work from the artistic and/or demographic margins, from Australia [and]… the world.”
RMIT NON/FICTIONLAB: “a research center that critically explores and articulates the value of creative work as a playful vessel for the imagination… building and supporting laboratories of practice around matters of social, political, cultural and environmental concern.”
Eloise Grills is writer and comics artist, photographer, poet, tutor and memoir editor for Scum Magazine. She is a current Felix Meyer Scholar and was a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow in 2016. She was recently awarded the 2018 Woollahra Digital Literary Prize for Nonfiction for her Scum Magazine column, Diary of a Post-Teenage Girl, Her debut comics chapbook, Sexy Female Murderesses, will be published by Glom Press in November.
Newnham for O:JA&L: Describe the winning submission and what you consider to be experimental about it.
Grills: big beautiful female theory is an illustrated lyric essay that binds slogans, memoir, history, poetry, fiction, critical theory, pop culture, fat theory, art criticism, sex and a befuddling procession of acronyms to defy the ways in society polices, manages, and dehumanises bodies—squishing the soul so that it can conform to its unforgiving standards. I guess what is experimental about it is the way in which it glides between layers of self, between voices, the way in which it embraces multiple registers and threads them together into an almost living collage. This sort of formal experimentation is closer to the experience of being alive than literary nonfiction, for me, at least. I’m interested in the idea of the “literary quilting” wherein bits of life and ephemera are stitched together in a textual/visual form. I’m especially interested in the ways this form can echo outsider art, crafts and art forms used to tell stories embraced by those repressed by white cis heteronormative patriarchy. So when I was writing this, this creative/critical work about the sexy everyday tragedy of living in a body, especially a woman’s body, especially a fat woman’s body, I wanted to ask, through art, through text through experimental: how can one dissemble discourse from within that very same discourse? How can you write the self from within the self.
Newnham for O:JA&L: Your definition of experimental discourse
Grills: I’m interested in the idea, Anna Gibbs wrote it— that “It aims not simply to make a point, but have a point – which is to bring about a certain change in a certain set of narrative relations”. In such a way rather than taking on the authoritative voice of academia, experimental discourse poses its thesis as an interrogation, an exploration, diving into literature, science, art, like some sort of mythic fountain, and emerging entirely changed on the other side.
Marginalised voices are still in the process of articulating a voice for themselves in the public sphere. I find this really exciting because there is so much to be done, there is so much experimenting with and undermining patriarchal logics to undertake, there is such an exciting future for writing that goes against the grain. Work that disrupts the rigidity of academic thought, the way in which the institution has reified the masculine, and the ways in which other voices are denied access to the canon inspires the way I think about experimentalism.
Newnham for O:JA&L: Your fav experimental writers and briefly why
Grills: Maggie Nelson, Ellena Savage, Chris Kraus, Sheila Heti and Hera Lindsay Bird. I’m currently partway through Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body & Other Parties and it is amazing and I think already changing the way that I write. I like these writers for the usual reasons: they are wickedly funny, smart, acerbic and political without being polemical. They are defiant as hell. They write as a process of inquiry, rather than a didactic presentation of answers to well-worn questions.
I’m also a huge fan of a lot of comics artists, though, including Alison Bechdel, Thi Bui and Jillian Tamaki. I believe that comics artists are inherently experimental: the ways in which comics can collapse time and space and create layered and braided meaning reflects my favourite ingredients of experimental writing.
Newnham for O:JA&L: What is experimental about your own work [other than discussed in point 1]
Grills: I’m really interested in pushing formal limitations of writing and art. My approach to writing, drawing, photography is to enmesh these into a finished art form, and then instead of asking why do something, I ask: why not? Therefore I like to plug everything into my work, or to “mine my life for sad bits” as I wrote in bbft. I include screenshots, photographs, drawings, paintings; anything I create can become part of a later piece of textual work, and nothing gets thrown away. Sylvia Plath never got rid of any of her old writing; if she tried and failed to make a table, Ted Hughes said, she would be happy with a chair. In that way, I’m interested in the multiplicity and polyvalence inherent to experimental writing. The ways in which you can play with truth, honesty, selfhood, form, basically everything, in a new and defiant way.
Newnham for O:JA&L: And why choose to experiment when it often limits marketing/publishing opportunities
Grills: I write experimentally almost always either because I’m too pigheaded, too silly, too principled, too stubborn, or all of the above. Writing in a conventional way just doesn’t make sense to me. I used to write more traditionally structured narratives, I tried to write fiction; I wrote some op-eds but none of these worked. When I can’t play or make something new or experimental, I can’t really see the point of making things, and I end up phoning it in. I think that there are always opportunities around if you push for them, and even if you don’t get them, if you only want prizes or book sales or zine sales and you don’t actually give a shit about your practice, then you’re not going to stay being a writer or artist very long.
Newnham for O:JA&L: Thanks to Eloise Grills for agreeing to the interview and Sam Cooney of The Lifted Brow for facilitating it.
About the interviewer:
Contributing Editor Warwick Newnham is the winner of the 2016 The Lifted Brow experimental non-fiction prize, a highly commended award in the 2016 Stringy Bark Stories “times past” anthology and was selected as a finalist in the 2017 Pen 2 Paper Coalition of Texans with Disabilities Fiction Prize. His work “Tootie; My little Pig” was selected as a finalist in the spineless wonders 2018 year of the dog special with the piece performed by actors as part of the Sydney Literary Festival. His short stories have been published in O:JA&L, Nocturnal Submissions, Overland, The Lifted Brow, Meanjin, Westerly and Horror Sleaze Trash and others.
Image: Portrait photo courtesy of Eloise Grills.