BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Recently, I interviewed Jordan Rothacker, a writer based in Georgia. Rothacker, the author of My Shadow Book by Maawaam and a forthcoming collection of short stories, Gristle: weird tales. Of My Shadow Book by Maawaam, Quintan Ana Wikswo, author of The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far, wrote that the book is a “triumph of narrative and structural inventiveness. As the intrigues and mysteries unfold, Rothacker’s polyphonic storytelling becomes a journey of ever-increasing entrancement. Invoking the epic speculative works of Clarice Lispector, Milorad Pavic, Edmond Jabés, and Borges, MY SHADOW BOOK is a masterfully crafted kaleidoscopic reinvention of literary beauty: a fragmented, arcane, haunting, and deliciously luxurious complexity of shimmering light that illuminates the very edges of thought and language.”
Rothacker, however, is a prolific writer whose abilities span fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Recently, he wrote about the rise of Nazism in Georgia for Flagpole, stating:
“Guns were everywhere. Outside the checkpoint, where I saw the most arrests, half a dozen police officers tackled one young protester for putting on a mask while another five chased a shirtless kid, likely for the same reason. Or because he stood in the street.
Those seeking entry had to empty their pockets and be patted down by an officer. Prohibited items included pins, bandanas, flags, signs with stakes or poles, pens, water bottles and knives. Firearms were allowed if you had a permit. Glancing at one of the trash cans, I saw a set of nail clippers.
The checkpoint and arrests were a reminder of the extreme militarization of local law enforcement. Why this show of force? Was it so the town could keep its citizens safe, and if so, safe from whom, Nazis or counter-protesters? Was it to protect property, or was it to protect freedom of speech? When Nazis have an armed escort provided by the state to a secure location to spout hate, it’s hard not to see it as preferential treatment.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing him about music, writing, and art. Check it out below:
Describe your favorite meal.
As a pescatarian of Spanish descent, I need tapas and a seafood paella regularly. Pulpo a la gallego is one of my favorite things at such a meal, along with a tortilla bocadillo. The best Spanish food I’ve had in this country has been at José Andrés’ Jaleo in Las Vegas and Curaté in Asheville, North Carolina. I spent my 40th birthday at the bar at Curaté eating like this with my wife next to me and my baby (then two months old) strapped to my chest. I could do that again and again. I get teary just thinking about it. And hungry.
What have you been listening to lately?
For some reason, the Christmas season brings me back to Eddy Grant’s first big band, The Equals. They are the perfect mid-60s mod, R&B band for house parties, a subtle crowd-pleaser that always puts me into a good mood. It’s also the season for Nina Simone (particularly the album Little Girl Blue) and Joni Mitchell.
Choose three books that you've always identified with?
Your term, “identify with,” is something I find really intriguing. I’ve never made that list before. I’ve done “influenced by,” “favorites,” and “desert island,” but not identified with. I’ll be true to the question as I understand it. My answer is Northanger Abbey, Narcissus and Goldmund, and the Bhagavad Gita. They are respectively about a young person who lets books influence how they interact with the world; a constant battle between flesh and spirit; and a constant debate on how and when to act, to break out of inertia and do something in the world. In regards to the word “always” I have been engaging these texts since at least my late teens.
Choose one painting that describes who you are. What is it?
That would be “Dead Poet Borne By Centaur” by Gustave Moreau. Sorry to be so emo. Should I have said “Garden of Earthly Delights” by Bosch? I feel like that is a trite description of self. Maybe I’m not the dead poet? Maybe I’m the centaur? Maybe I’m both? So mysterious… so emo... Regardless, a postcard of that painting looks out at me on my desk.
Choose a gif that encompasses mornings for you.
That gif where Shaq and the cat shake and wiggle at each other.
What do you imagine the apocalypse is like? How would you want to die?
I’d like to hope the Gnostics were kinda right. There is a Demiurge. But he’s just some otherworldly giant, dopey and diaphanous and always hiding just behind the sun. And one day he will get bored with this awful, flawed creation. And that will be it, one day—SMASH—and no more toy any more. I can be OK with a death like that.
If you could only watch three films for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Charade (1963), directed by Stanley Donen.
Stalker (1979), directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.
Clueless (1995), directed by Amy Heckerling.
The rest of my life is a tough call, but those are three of my favorites with a range of moods so they will have to do.
What’s your favorite animal?
What's something that surprised you recently?
That Jared Kushner actually cares about prison sentencing reform. Maybe it’s because he knows he and most of his/his wife’s family will end up there.
What do you carry with you at all times?
A pilot G-2 (07) gel pen is clipped to my collar or in a breast pocket at all times. I also always wear a St. Christopher medal. I’m not a Catholic but I was originally drawn to him since he is the patron saint of travelers. Eventually, I saw him as a hermetic figure. Now he represents parenthood. He is Atlas, he carries the world on his shoulders.
What are you afraid of?
Dying unknown. (So thanks for this interview)
What are some of your daily rituals or routines?
I wake up and I stretch (in the shower if there is time) and I put on St. Christopher. Every day I produce 500 words, even if I can’t actually “sit down and write.” There is always a notepad in my pocket, larger notebooks around, and even my iPhone notepad and they get their daily words, unless I am deep in a project. I work on several projects at once and life and need often dictate what gets finished first. The best days I hit my thousand words, but those are few recently.
But I have to write every day. I’m centered and grounded in that moment. I love to travel, but that static state is only really heightened when I actually travel. At home it’s always there with me—that static state—to some low-key degree. Like in Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” “I cannot rest from travel.” My family uprooted when I was seven and moved from Long Island to Spain and France where we four people lived out of seven suitcases for four months while my father looked for work. Ultimately, we came back to the States and settled in Atlanta. I’d always been an anxious kid but living on the road abroad for that stretch vibrated with my original tension. I feel like I’ve never gotten off the road since. I also started writing in a journal on that trip. Every day I write and that is where I am home.
What are your proudest accomplishments?
I’m pretty proud of my books, but nothing is comparable to my baby. My wife did all the hard work in making him, but spending every day with him is better than the day before. When he hears Nina Simone or Bowie and he smiles and does his little dance, I am proud.
Define happiness for you.
I’m sorry for the sap, but this is a direct extension of my last answer. Happiness is watching my baby’s face as he experiences the world, as his eyes light up in understanding and realization. His smile at simple joy. That is happiness for me.
What’s something you want to do in 2019?
I want to really tour for my forthcoming story collection, Gristle: weird tales. I’ve played in bands but never gone on tour and I done several readings over the years with my previous books, but I’ve never really hit lots of stops in a short span of time and felt like I got my work out there to a live audience. I’m intrigued to talk to strangers who just wandered into a bookstore and wondered who this guy is and what his book is like and then listened. If they think its crap, I want to hear that. If they like it, that is nice to hear too.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams, The Gods Are Dead, Marys of the Sea, Sexting Ghosts, Xenos, No(body) (forthcoming, Madhouse Press, 2019), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault. They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes Poetry and the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Them, Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente / FB: joannacvalente
Jordan Rothacker is a writer living in Athens, Georgia. His most recent novel is My Shadow Book by Maawaam, available at readspaceboy.com.