In this episode, assistant editor Hayden Dunbar talks with Gwen E. Kirby, author of the collection of short stories Shit Cassandra Saw, about literary stereotypes, how personal observation becomes story, and who she considers her debut to be for. Kirby’s answer to the latter displays her conscientious approach to her own work: “While I’m really excited to have the book be labeled as feminist, which I think that it is feminist, I think that the idea that a feminist book is only for women is really misguided.”
Kirby and Dunbar’s conversation is shot through with a willingness to interrogate the space women hold in the literary world as authors, characters, and readers. Kirby describes her experience of writing and releasing Shit Cassandra Saw, and her evolving approach to craft reflected in the uniqueness of each story. But Kirby also talks about the second life every book has: what it’s like to publish a debut, and how one’s work is marketed. Reflecting a similar approach as we see in her stories, Kirby addresses these necessary yet weighty topics with compassion, good humor, and a welcome dose of sarcasm: “Well, you know, male protagonists are the gender-neutral protagonists that we’ll all enjoy reading about, and then women protagonists are for women and open-minded men willing to try something new—and that’s really sad.” Yet there is deep care in Kirby’s words, and a real excitement for the work and craft required to fashion a good story—writing that pushes the bounds of form, challenges trope and expectation, and depicts its characters with honesty and complexity.
Kirby’s stories can be found in Tin House, Guernica, One Story, and elsewhere. Kirby currently teaches creative writing at the University of the South and is also the Associate Director of Programs and Finance for the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. You can see her at this year’s Southern Festival of Books.
The Sewanee Review Podcast is recorded in the Ralston Listening Room at the University of the South. This episode is produced by Hayden Dunbar and edited by ProPodcast Solutions with music by Annie Bowers. Don’t miss any of our conversations with some of today’s best writers. Subscribe to the Sewanee Review Podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.