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Interview: Heidi Smith, Author of The Clara Ann Burns Story

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As a child, Heidi Smith grew up in Chicago and began expressing herself through the written word and poetry.  Her works were published during her childhood and she also won several local and academic awards for her work.  

Heidi Smith had the honor of being awarded a scholarship to a private high school and also attended college courses during her high school years. Raising a family took her away from writing for a bit, after high school; however Ms. Smith soon went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts from Eastern Illinois University, followed by earning a Master of Arts in Humanities from California State University and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Goddard College.

Recently, many of Heidi Smith’s poems have found their way to publication in an assortment of journals and she has also published a scholarly thesis on the German artist George Grosz.

The Clara Ann Burns Story is Ms. Smith’s first novel.  Readers can learn more about Heidi Smith and her work by visiting The Monkey Puzzle Press website.

Please tell us a bit about your book and what you hope readers take away from reading it.

The Clara Ann Burns Story registers things that abuse and devalue a child. Clara, the protagonist, measures these things by chronicling a war not typically found in history books. There are different battlefields but all wars begin in homes, in thoughts and on tongues. My hope is that the book instantiates the unsustainability of validating truth by vilifying others and provokes questions concerning the shapes, sizes and colors of affliction.

Who are your favorite characters in the story?

My favorite character is the protagonist Clara. She is the one who shows us what love is.

Do you have a favorite line or excerpt from your book?



If your current release were to be turned into a movie, who would you love to see play what characters and why?

I must preface my answer by saying that while I must admit the thought of my book becoming a film did cross my mind it was a fleeting thought. I would love to see an unknown actress play the part of Clara, the protagonist in The Clara Ann Burns Story. Clara was born with a cleft lip. I would want the actress to have been born with a cleft lip to play the part. While I know of a few men who have been born with a cleft lip have become famous actors and most of them have a mustache. No female actress with a cleft lip has played a major role in a film that I am aware of even though 1 out of every 700 people are born with a cleft lip or palate. I was born with a cleft lip. I am very self-conscious of it but part of me believes that I am beautiful but because society rarely (if ever) seems to support a woman who has an obvious birth defect on her face the other part of me never believes it.

What are your favorite aspects of writing?

My favorite aspect of my creative writing practice is when I write I straddle both the physical world and my own conceptual world in a virtual space in which creation emerges. While some may suggest that anything is a work of art, I would argue that an artwork is molded by an artist who is a skilled and practicing artisan and that the work of art itself causes sensations in the viewer who is ‘affected’ by the work of art in the Deleuzian sense. While a machine itself, for example, may be a ‘work of art’ a machine cannot manufacture an art theory it can only represent an art theory. Artists are creators of art that instantiates the artistic theory that are represented by the artifact. In terms of creative writing ‘creativity’ implies ‘to bring forth’ or ‘to make’. In my own creative writing practice I bring everything to the writing space, my past, my present and all of my memories, everything that is in my immediate environment are my tools but my work as an artist, as Picasso stated, is to ‘find’ something. This finding is the pleasure of creative writing and this is also why, I suggest, we read. Although it may be true that I begin the writing process with a general idea or story, however it is only by engaging in the creative writing practice that the work of art is born and not before. Delueze pointed out that ‘nothing is ever repeated and that difference is always what is presented’ but difference in itself (since it is everything) does not itself translate into a work of art, rather what is unusual about a set of differences is what an artist is the finder of.

You’re least favorite aspects of writing?

I am working toward a PhD in Creative Writing. I started writing when I was seven years old. While I have had other interests such as figure skating, speed skating, raising children, interior design, travel, and so-forth, writing has always been my favorite activity outside of being a mother and wife. I do not mind rewriting something hundreds of times. I love everything about creative writing and critical writing. Although I love my husband, children and my dogs more than writing there are things about them that drive my crazy at times.

Who are some of your favorite authors/books?

Flannery O’Connor (entire oeuvre)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Faust
Helene Cixious Three Steps On A Ladder of Writing
Selah Saterstrom The Pink Institution and The Meat and Spirit Plan
Anne Carson Nox
Plato (entire oeuvre)
Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics
Friedrich Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil
Gilles Deleuze Spinoza Practical Philosophy
Maurice Blanchot The Writing Of The Disaster
Jack Kerouac Tristessa
Dorianne Laux Facts About The Moon and What We Carry
Marie Redonnet Hotel Splendid
Clarice Lispector The Hour of the Star
Ai Vice
Sharon Olds Satan Says
Elaine Pagels The Gnostic Gospels
Procopius The Secret History
Oscar Wilde The Importance of Being Earnest
Jacques Derrida The Post Card
Tim O’Brien The Things They Carried
Nick Flynn Another Bullshit Day in Suck City
Paul Selig The Word
George Grosz The Autobiography of George Grosz
Vincent van Gogh (letters to his brother, etc.)

What are you reading right now?

Paul de Man The Resistance Theory
Martin Heidegger (entire oeuvre)
Immanuel Kant (entire oeuvre)
David Hume An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding
Soren Kierkeegaard The Essential Kierkegaard
Gilles Deluze including texts written with Guattari (entire oeuvre)
Merleau-Ponty Phenomenology of Perception and The World Of Perception
Umberto Eco Kant and the Platypus
Michael Foucault The Essential Works of Foucault 1954 – 1984
Henri Bergson The Creative Evolution
Brian Massumi Parables For The Virtual
Hans Gademer Truth and Method
Jean-Francois Lyotard (entire oeuvre)
Michel Foucault The Archeology of Knowledge
Jean-Paul Sarte existentialism & humanism
Jacques Lacan The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis
Sigmund Freud The Interpretation of Dreams
Michael Polanyi The Tacit Dimension and Personal Knowledge
Theodor Adorno Dialectic of Enlightenment
George Lakoff Metaphors We Live By
Ariana Reines The Little Black Book of Griselidis Real: Days and Nights of an
Anarchist Whore

If you could have a dinner party and invite five authors – dead or alive – who would they be and what would you serve them?

If I could have a dinner party with five authors – alive or dead – I would invite Jacques Derrida, Selah Saterstrom, Susan Melrose, Brian Massumi and Gilles Deleuze. I was initially tempted to invite Plato or Nietzsche but I had second thoughts since Plato and Nietzsche may be so freaked out about entering the 21st century that they might not be lively conversationalists. Their slumber is now too sound and sweet and the Universe will not allow them to be plucked from its lullaby that gently rocks them in its cradle. I would be remiss not to invite Susan and Selah – my most beloved mentors – who would reverently and joyously test the veracity of the minds of Massumi, Deleuze and Derrida. The joyance of this thought far outweighs the triviality of the complexity in its making. If I may borrow notionally from Mark Strand ‘there is no happiness like mine / I am thinking about dining with philosophers!’ I am designing the invitations. I say to the Royal Mail carrier “Post-haste!” To a pair of ghostly loyal servants “Let us set the table together. Parchments and Monte Blanc pens for everyone!” Since only two of the six do not speak French, justice requires a chef from Le Cordon Bleu, however I am not convinced that if this group will imbibe foodstuff since the nourishment of philosophy is all the sustenance we will require.

What is a book that you wish you could say that you had written and why?

I will share with you something I find inspiring that Nietzsche wrote: “Every artist knows how different from the state of letting himself go, in his “most natural” condition, the free arranging, locating, disposing, and constructing in the moments of “inspiration” – and how strictly and delicately he then obeys these laws, which, by their very rigidness and precision, defy formulation by means of ideas (even the most stable idea has, in comparison therewith, something floating, manifold, and ambiguous in it.).” How does an artist create? This is the question. I have such a profound admiration and reverence for the writers that I admire that I cannot imagine having the desire to take credit for something I did not write nor would I change a single word. The poet Elena Georgiou, who was one of my professors at Goddard College, told me, “Always look for the good in the text.” I believe Georgiou’s positive principle is useful not only in terms of literary criticism, but also in terms of living. What I am suggesting here is that it is easy to point out something useful in text when we enjoy reading it but developing the ability to find something useful in what we do not enjoy is a valuable skill. I stopped wishing things would be different than they are a number of years ago. I am quite content with the way the universe is despite all of the tragic things that have happened to me, to my family, to my country and to the world. I am far too perplexed with the complexity of my own work to think about making changes to the work of others or to devise a plan to lay claim to work that is not my own.

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