Feminist literature has long veered towards experimentation and the avant-garde as it has grappled with the ways language and identity are intertwined. In a BOMB Magazine interview, Renee Gladman describes a conversation between herself and Banu Khapil (two geniuses!): “Experimentation, we were saying, is an ideal mode of engagement for marginalized people and we couldn’t understand…why so many people still believe that the ‘transparency’ of conventional storytelling somehow allows one to capture what it is to exist in the world more authentically.”
Personally, I believe in a diversity of tactics, and that both traditional and new forms of storytelling can be powerful tools. Still, I love this challenge: to produce an authentic storytelling experience in an unprecedented way—especially when the story and storytellers are radically engaged in dismantling the predominant ways that story is complicit in oppression and erasure.
When I read, I find myself searching for writers who have taken up this challenge with joyful experimentation and fearlessness. I’ve found that writers who are cross-pollinating mediums often arrive at truly distinct language and a new sound for “what it is to exist in the world.” To this end, I have collected a short list of experimental writers who are also performers, musicians, and artists; writers who challenge the structures of writing, reading and audience. These writers have my fullest attention.
1. Jennifer Tamayo
Jennifer Tamayo is the author of the collection of poems and art work, Red Missed Aches Read Missed Aches Red Mistakes Read Mistakes, Poems Are The Only Real Bodies and You Da One. Her Dora series moves between Dora the Explorer—a mechanism to explore citizenship and latinx identity across borders—and Dora, Freud’s case study on hysteria. Tamayo’s brilliant at arranging an assortment of voices and pitches in both her writing and performance. But what I like best is her uncompromising boldness. In one performance, draped in a white sheet, she asked her audience to answer the question “what is white subjectivity?” by writing their responses onto her.
2. Juliana Huxtable
Juliana Huxtable was the crowned star of New Museum’s 2015 Surround Audience. She’s a quintuple talent: poet, DJ, visual and performance artist, and model. In her performance, There Are Certain Facts That Cannot Be Disputed, Huxtable guides us, as artist and scientist, through an elaborate story of time, space and cyberspace. The performance unfolds in three increasingly chaotic chapters. Surrounded by video and sound effects, the viewer has the sensation of being aboard a cyber cruise ship. Huxtable narrates a revised history, along with web addresses and cyber forensic processes—“Radioactive dating on a scanned polaroid on an ok cupid profile, radioactive decay as the wash of images we fought to include disappear.”
3. Valeria Luiselli
Valeria Luiselli is a Mexican novelist, essayist, librettist and sound artist. She is the author of Sidewalks, Faces in the Crowd and The Story of My Teeth. I’m partial to Sidewalks, a collection of poetic essays that encounter space, matter and anti-matter: the holes in the sidewalk, the chalk outlines where bodies have fallen but since disappeared, holes in language and brain cavities. The Story of My Teeth was written in installments to be read to workers in a Jumex factory in Mexico. It’s a surreal, deeply playful story of an auctioneer who, among other misadventures, auctions his own self away to his vengeful son, who then keeps him captive in the Galería Jumex.
4. Cristy Road
I pulled Cristy Road’s Greenzine off the shelf of a DIY library a dozen years ago, and fell in love. Her work speaks frankly about the power of love, masturbation, music and independence. She examines—with vulgar, tender care—relationships between bodies and sexuality, abuse and reclamation. Road is most known for her iconic visual art. She also fronts a punk band Homewreckers. Since Greenzine, she’s published three illustrated novels and most recently, Spit and Passion, a yearning, passionate graphic memoir about coming out.
5. Anna Joy Springer
Anna Joy Springer is a feminist punk performer, formerly of Blatz, Gru’ps and Cypher in the Snow (just some of the most epic Bay Area punk bands of all time). In her novella, The Birdwisher, she writes, “Necessity isn’t the mother of invention. Audacity is.” Her fabulist memoir, The Vicious Red Relic, Love is a necessary audacious invention, in which multiple narrators strike different notes, much like a musical composition. A rock opera, perhaps. The main narrative navigates the grief of losing a lover—an addict and cult survivor—to AIDS.