A Fearless Exploration of the Human Body

Writer, critic and essayist Carmen Maria Machado's first collection of short stories, Her Body and Other Parties (Graywolf Press, reviewed below), was recently longlisted for the National Book Award. Shelf Awareness spoke with her about the book.

photo: Tom Storm Photography

Pondering the process of putting together her debut short story collection, Machado had much to say. "Once upon a time, I didn't believe story collections had to be organized or curated; wasn't it enough that it was a collection of stories? But, of course, since then I've realized the collections I've read that are the most powerful, memorable and vibrant are collections that chew on interesting and complementary ideas; collections that possess a sense of purpose and focus. So I looked at all of the stories I'd written and began to see themes emerging between particular ones. I gathered those stories into one place and realized I had a book's worth--and not just in terms of length, but in completeness of conversation."

As to how she went about killing her darlings: "When my editor Ethan Nosowsky came in, he suggested I cut a couple of them, and I realized he was right--a few of the stories were slight and repeated certain themes without expanding on them. So out the door they went! The result is a tight, lean collection curated to reflect my current obsessions with the oppressed body, gender, sex and sexuality."

"I am both terrified and thrilled to see my book out in the wide world," Machado admitted. "I've been publishing stories and essays for a few years, so I'm already 'out there' in one sense, but it is an entirely different animal to have a published, print book of just your work. The stories are now fixed, and no longer my own--they belong to the readers who read them. That process of letting go has been very intense." --Stefanie Hargreaves, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

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