Kristen Millares Young is a hell of a strong force. Her debut fiction novel Subduction (Red Hen Press) was celebrated by The Paris Review and The Washington Post, among others. And she edited and debuted the anthology Seismic: Seattle, City of Literature. Did I mention this occurred during a pandemic? Despite the chaos of 2020, Young pushed forward with a busy (and successful) virtual national tour. Young is a journalist, essayist, editor, teacher, and fiction writer. She co-founded InvestigateWest and teaches creative writing at the University of Washington Continuum College.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
D.A. Navoti: I’m impressed by your career as you hold so many professional titles, like journalist, novelist, essayist, teacher, just to name a few. How many of these opportunities were choices you worked tirelessly for? As opposed to “happy accidents?”
Kristen Millares Young: I would call teaching a “happy accident” but it seems that the ways in which the publication industry is structured, a person is valued for what they can provide to others. So it is no accident.
DAN: In 2020, you edited an anthology titled Seismic: Seattle, City of Literature (quick side note: the literary lineup is stunning), and I noticed the anthology is free. Why free?
KMY: People don’t often think about this but a book is expensive. Most books are not re-read, and so you have something that costs between fifteen and thirty dollars. Depending how someone quickly reads, they consume a book within a couple of hours. And given the nature of what the anthology was asking for, which is greater attention to equity in Seattle, and more service to marginalized communities, it seemed completely necessary for the collection to be free in print and digitally. (Download a free copy here).
DAN: It brought me a smile knowing Seismic is free. How can other writers make their work accessible to others?
KMY: Most people give readings for free. That’s the most accessible way, especially now. You can share stories in oral form. Distribution during a pandemic is difficult, so having a digital copy accessible, maybe via social media or email, is one way to quickly connect the people, who are already following your doings, with your work.
I struggled this past year with publicizing my work [due to the pandemic]. But I know as a woman that if I don't stand behind my work, it will be erased. So it emboldened me.
DAN: Parenting and being a great writer is a tough balancing act. How do your children reinforce your healthy writing habits?
KMY: Children drive you into a desperation that’s a bit like Occam’s razor. You just get rid of everything you don’t need, and surprisingly there is a lot. When I think about the amount of time I had before becoming a parent, the time I let lie fallow, whether it was for emotional reflection, or putting into other people’s work as a journalist, I didn’t develop a pre-dawn wake up habit until after I had children.
DAN: Do you think a pre-dawn habit, then, is out of necessity?
KYM. Absolutely. Children are go-go-go the moment they wake up.
Kristen Millares Young is the author of the novel Subduction, a Paris Review staff pick called “whip-smart” by the Washington Post, a “brilliant debut” by the Seattle Times, and “utterly unique and important” by Ms. Magazine. From 2018 to 2020, Kristen served as prose writer-in-residence at Hugo House. Her prize-winning investigations, essays and reviews appear in the Washington Post, Literary Hub, the Guardian, and elsewhere, as well as the anthologies Latina Outsiders: Remaking Latina Identity, Pie & Whiskey, a New York Times New & Noteworthy Book, and Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort During the Time of COVID-19. She was the researcher for the New York Times team that produced “Snow Fall,” which won a Pulitzer Prize. From 2016 to 2019, she was board chair of InvestigateWest, a nonprofit newsroom she co-founded to protect vulnerable peoples and places of the Pacific Northwest.
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