Every week, I’ll be doing a mini feature on my site (& blasting it on social media) on activists, artists, and educators who are doing important things in the world. Like Levar Burton says, the only thing these folks have in common is that I like them, and I hope you do too.
This week’s feature is Genevieve Walker.
Genevieve Walker is a very special guest. Not only because she’s one of my favorite writers (ever), but also because she was my very first writer-friend. We met in 2004, our fresh(wo)man year of college, in a California Literature class where we both had rolled our eyes when a classmate said something pithy about the protagonist in The Red Pony. Every Tuesday/Thursday, we’d get together and write and rhapsodize about whatever we were reading. I have always been, and always will be, an unabashed fan of her beautiful, California-drenched, smart, and endlessly sharp writing. You can keep up with Genevieve’s writing on Twitter, where she posts about upcoming work (@GenevieveGW), and you can also read this piece she wrote about our writing soulmateship.
What themes or ideas do you feel your work engages with?
Curiosity and emotions, but like, wrapped up in cultural reportage if you can call it that. I have written about food trends recently, and books. I’ve been working on my interpretation of west-coast (Californian) spirituality, which feels more like some version of the American Dream, like, the tussle between, “I can have whatever I want because I’m special and destined for greatness,” and, “why don’t I have what I want?” I really like how that way of thinking and being shows up in so many places. For example, the impetus to go to yoga retreats, or become a marathoner, or a vegan or a Christian or a personal trainer.
What were you like as a child?
Very quiet. I loved riding in cars, for hours and hours, and staring out the window. I loved car trips. I loved car trips. I was usually telling myself stories, or rather, taking myself on “stories” based on the landscapes I was seeing out the window. I was also very critical, or righteous, and a little rage-y. I didn’t smile much, and I got in trouble for hitting adults of a certain ilk–nurses and teachers and dentists.
I have always been creative. Loved to draw and make things and read. Though I started reading a little late, or so my grandma thought. I didn’t like reading books until I was 10, and then I couldn’t stop.
Can you remember the first piece of art– performance, literary, fine, street–you saw/read that wowed you?
I was very fortunate (in my opinion) to have grown up around visual artists. I remember being taken by these… abalone shell diorama’s that my mom’s friend made, when I was about two years old. The shell art was super ’80s in retrospect–bright colored cutouts of palm trees and flowers glued onto pearlescent shell. Dazzling. Then there was a sculptor whose work I adored. She made miniature furniture and houses that usually incorporated some kind of light source, she used Beetlejuice-esque diagonals (German Expressionist?) and rich, somber colors.
One piece in particular I was fascinated by, it was a wedge-shaped couch, about six inches long, and two Australian Cattle Dogs pulling the stuffing out of one corner. The work was very fine, I thought. I think I was about seven. Around that same time my mom started hanging out with newspaper photographers. She was dating one, in fact. He gave me a color photo that was going to be printed in the newspaper, it had the different color profiles (I guess you’d call it) printed on separate sheets of cellophane-like paper (sorry, anyone who knows what I’m talking about, I don’t know the right words). Not only was that neat, the photo was of a dog with sunglasses on, with its head out a car window. When I was ten years old though I hit the thing that really did it, and that was reading. It was, sigh, Harriet the Spy (the book). Wowed might not be the right word, but I was carried away completely and entirely.
What work do you do in the world that you feel proud of?
Such a question. I feel proud of the work I do at WORK, which is, helping to manage the operations of a magazine. I like helping people do the things they want to do, feel “upwardly mobile” and feel… appreciated. I’m proud of the writing I do, when it does make it into the world. I’m proud of the profiles I’ve done for A Woman’s Thing, on women who make a living at physical labor-y and outdoors-y jobs.
What’s keeping you embodied right now?
I’ve been writing a thing for the past few years, while working / working on other things. It’s a book-length project that I hope will finally help me articulate what it is, exactly, that I can call my “style” or “genre.” It’s something like a memoir, but that word bums me out. It’s a creative nonfiction novel about my involvement in an intentional, new-age community in California, as a teen.
Tell us a story.
I see the driver in silhouette as he pulls to the curb. High grey-white hair, wide shoulders. Takes up the whole driver-side window. I notice how he’s looking at us: Intently. We get in, sit down. J. coughs as he buckles his seatbelt.
Over his shoulder the driver says, “Are you sick?”
“No,” says J. “I’m fine. Thank you, though.”
“I can help,” says the driver. “What you need is salt. More salt.”
I adjust my jacket, say nothing.
“Salt can cure anything,” he says. “Really. I wrote the book.”
“Really!” He holds up a yellow paperbound book. “You need electrolytes to balance the internal ecosystem. The body heals itself.” He pauses. “Currently I’m working on a new book.” He stops.
“What’s it about?” Asks J.
“I shouldn’t tell you,” he says. He looks at us in the rearview. “But I will. It’s the cure for breast cancer.”
“Oh,” say we in a sort of tired unison.
“You see. You can tell from the lips of women,” he says. “The lips are shiny and dented in the middle. It’s because they don’t like drinking water. They don’t like having to pee. Same reason women don’t drink beer!”
I pretend I am the seat, I am the seatbelt.
“So the cure is water?” Asks J. “Not salt?”
“Less salt,” he says. “Water, yes. And salt. Just a little less.”
Genevieve Walker is a writer of nonfiction, mostly: essays and criticism and memoir. Also, poetry-fictions. Her writings have appeared in Bon Appétit, Real Life, The Brooklyn Quarterly, The Pitchfork Review, Guernica, Narratively, and others. She is a contributing editor at A Women’s Thing, an occasional illustrator, an MFA candidate in creative writing at The Writer’s Foundry, and a happy member of The Duke Ellington Society. She is the deputy managing editor of GQ.