A Conversation with Adrienne Novy
Congratulations on Crowd Surfing with God! How did the concept come about?
AN: Thank you so much! The book first started as a completely different project. I was in several creative writing classes in college, and really I just started collecting material I created over the years. I knew I wanted the book to be about me and my family: I grew up in a dual-faith household (my mom is Jewish and my dad is Roman Catholic), and I felt like I had to pick a side but didn’t know where I fit. I was in-and-out of the hospital as a child due to cyclical vomiting caused by complications from a rare genetic disorder known as Cat Eye Syndrome and had had two major surgeries before I was ten.
Even though religion, family, loss, mental illness, and music are talked about in this book, the one topic that I really wanted to talk about was Cat Eye Syndrome. I never read or saw anything about Cat Eye Syndrome and did not know of anyone else that had Cat Eye Syndrome until I got into my twenties.
Cat Eye Syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that is marked by an extra fragment of the 22nd chromosome. As writers, we remind ourselves to write the books we needed when we were younger, and given all of the books and albums I’ve clung to and found solace in, having a book about Cat Eye Syndrome written by someone with the disorder would have meant the world to me and could have changed a lot of the ways I viewed myself when I was a child.
What is your creative process?
AN: To be honest, I really don’t know how to describe my process down to specifics? At least as of right now. As a teenager in slam and forensics, I approached poems with subjects that I was passionate about or about an experience that upset me. I went to Teen Writers and Artists Project’s Wordplay events and workshops any week I could, and that provided me a place to be mentored, exercise my writing abilities, and to hear other young writers and artists who are professionals in their craft.
Sometimes writing poems feels like a lucid dream, where I’m half in my body and half not. Sometimes I get a full piece. Sometimes it’s just writing down a phrase in my phone notes or in a notebook and that’s all I’ve got in me for the day. The moment before I get into writing a poem, it feels like a bunch of marbles are rolling around in my brain and I have to reach out and grab one. As of late, I’ve been listening to albums that I’ve never heard before and pull out small strands of lyrics to incorporate and give the poem some structure of a backbone.
When I’m not writing, I’m reading all the time and I’m not reading just poetry. I’m competing in slams or going to community open mics. I go on two mile walks every day and listen to music. When I go to coffee shops or libraries with the intent to get writing done, I’ll bring a bunch of collections of poetry with me and flip through them. I’ll read online magazines and listen to poems on the internet. I always find that specific writer’s voice inside my head, as if guiding me. There’s this strange comfort in being surrounded by books that act as inspiration or an artist you love being there along with you. I strongly believe that it’s not possible to grow as an artist if you’re not actively listening to others or reflecting on/returning to the communities that built you.
You’ve previously discussed the influence music has had on you personally and your writing, what role does music play in Crowd Surfing with God?
AN: It takes two roles, in the acts of playing and listening. Music has helped me feel connected to my Jewish identity through playing clarinet and playing klezmer with a jazz combo in college. CSWG also focuses on bands that I loved listening to as a teenager or that my friends loved. When this book was in its early stages and I thought about incorporating music, I considered using the music that my parents listened to growing up and raised me on.
Who has been the greatest influence on your work and why?
AN: Definitely my mentors and professors over the years: Adam Gottlieb, Diana Zwinak, Corey Dillard, Cristopher Gibson, Lewis Mundt, Thressa Johnson, Sierra DeMulder, John Colburn, Katrina Vandenberg, Bill Reichard, Sun Yung Shin. Not to mention all of the people that I have been on slam teams with since high school!
But along with my mentors and communities that have built me, the books that I read and the albums I listened to were the greatest influences on the work that I did for this book. The writers whose work that I read while creating this book were Kaveh Akbar, Hanif Abdurraqib, Jess Rizkallah, Kristin Prevallet, Sabrina Benaim, Donte Collins, Anne Frank, Bill Moran, Safia Elhillo, and Anis Mojgani.
Jess Rizkallah, Daniel Garcia, Rachael Gay, and George Abraham are four of the people that specifically come to mind when I think of friends that pushed me and challenged me when making this book be what it is now. The two bands that had the biggest influence on my book are My Chemical Romance and The Wonder Years.
You stated that Crowd Surfing with God is the book you needed when you were younger. What do you hope your younger audience takes away from the collection?
AN: That it’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay for your identity to change. It’s not wrong or shameful to go to therapy and to take medication. I remember being really scared of my brain and that something was seriously wrong during my sophomore year of high school, but I didn’t know how to articulate it to adults. I had adults and teachers in my life that I could have turned to, but I was too nervous and I was still skeptical of how they would respond given stigmas that were reinforced in my life at the time.
My dream would be for a young person who also has Cat Eye Syndrome to be able to find this book, and feel like they have a friend in it. I didn’t grow up with any stories about Cat Eye Syndrome or know anyone else that had it, and I hope it helps them feel even just a little less isolated.
If anyone of any age reads my book and leaves my collection knowing what Cat Eye Syndrome is and looks up more about other people’s experiences with the genetic disorder, then I feel I’ve done my job as a writer.
What is your greatest challenge when writing and how do you overcome it?
AN: Trusting myself. That’s still something I’m trying to learn in everyday life. I also have always had a hunger for attention and the need to be validated by others since I struggled to find that worth within myself. Rejection from presses and literary journals turned out to be a challenge. I’m very hard on myself and I’m also very goal-oriented and stubborn in regards to achieving those goals. There were many times when I was in and out of a depression, and that being coupled with feeling heartbroken from being turned down by press after press, I would beat myself up or shut down.
Finding that self-worth for myself and trust myself are two things I may always be working one. With rejection, I had to submit to different places over and over and over again until I got used to the process. I would post screenshots of both rejection and acceptance letters to normalize this part of the literary world. I never thought that I would get to a point where I was comfortable with rejection, be able to celebrate it or laugh about it, or be able to brush it off and try submitting to the same place later. Being the social media editor for FreezeRay Poetry has also helped me see the process from the inside perspective. Shanny Maney, my poetry mentor from when I did speech camp in high school recently told me that poems are a lot like puppies and every puppy is deserving of a home. Sometimes a family considers a puppy for adoption, but then realizes that this specific puppy is not the best fit for them and so they adopt a different one. It doesn’t mean that the puppy that didn’t get chosen was a bad puppy--it just means that there’s another home out there that will find them and fit their needs much, much better.
So, what’s next for Adrienne Novy?
AN: I go back to Minnesota in the fall for my senior year of college and so that will be what takes up most of my time for a while. I’m also looking into local bookstores in the Twin Cities for book release shows. This book has allowed me to start learning about the process of being an author, specifically in what I need to go on tour, host events, and how the publishing business works.
I’m a creative writing major, so I’ll still be creating content and have lit mags I want to submit to. I don’t know when I’ll put out another collection, but it doesn’t feel like it will be for quite a while and I’m okay with that. I want to go on a book tour for Crowd Surfing With God, but don’t want to travel too much until I’ve graduated.
Maybe I’ll put out a mini chapbook of poems if I get the itch to get something creative into the world. I’d really love to collaborate with visual artists and musicians on broadsides, zines, and poetry albums. I’m a musician and visual artist too, so I think there’s something really special about getting to share that space with others and to create together. I also really miss being involved in theater and being on a stage in that regard. I’d love to be able to use the other artistic skills I have along with writing to be able to create beautiful projects with people. I love the arts so much for the community it has blessed me with.
Adrienne Novy is a teaching artist, Bettering American Poetry nominee, and musician currently living in Saint Paul, MN. Her work can be found in FreezeRay Poetry, Harpoon Review, Button Poetry, Maudlin House, and NAILED Magazine, with a poem forthcoming in Issue V of Half Mystic Journal. She is from the Chicago suburbs and wants to start a band with you.
Half Mystic Press is an independent publishing house and literary journal dedicated to the celebration of music in all its forms.
Lauren Walsburg is an Australian writer, editor, and artist. She is the Prose Editor of Cauldron Anthology and Minute Magazine. Her debut poetry collection Ink Stained Heart was released in April 2017.