Six Questions for Amina Cain

The founder of the Red Rover reading series returns to Chicago to promote her new book, Creature, at Logan Center for the Arts tonight.

Photo: Courtesy Amina Cain

When Amina Cain lived in Chicago in the mid-2000s, she co-founded the long-running experimental reading series, Red Rover, which often pushed the boundaries of what a “reading” could consist of.

Cain, who now lives in Los Angeles, shares that sensibility. Her own work—as exemplified in her second collection of stories, Creature, published last month by The Dorothy Project—eschews classification. Quietude and precision are its hallmarks, as the stories resemble meditations as often as they do traditional forms.

I caught up with Amina as she landed in Chicago in advance of her reading Friday night, to talk about her work, its reaction, and how she scored a blurb from Thurston Moore.

As you know, I’ve been a big fan of your writing for years. It’s very gratifying to see it get the attention it deserves. As someone who has worked a lot in the short-story form, do you feel like you’re still discovering new ways to tell a story?

Definitely. For me, that’s the most satisfying part of working on a story: watching it take its form. Even if that form has something in common with another story I’ve written, there are always these new pathways emerging or at least becoming more clear. With every story I learn something new. To write a story is to study the story.

With your last book, I Go To Some Hallow, and now this one, your work often reminds me of Lydia Davis. The sort of short-short story, one that dips into poetry is a very contemporary form. Do you feel like you’re working without much precedence?

I don’t think I’m working without precedence, just because my stories are often so much in response to something I’ve read, watched, seen, or otherwise encountered, but it is true that the fiction writers who I most feel an affinity toward—like Virginia Woolf or Marguerite Duras, or contemporary writers such as Renee Gladman or Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi or Suzanne Scanlon—are mostly working in longer forms. Each of our books are quite different in the end, but we all have strong relationships to language, and most definitely to poetic language.

I love Lydia’s Davis’s work and definitely see her as an influence. I do recognize that my short stories depart from the form, and that might be because I don’t prioritize things like plot. I write stories, but I’m not necessarily a storyteller, if that makes sense. I might fixate more on setting, for instance, or character, but not necessarily to put that character through some kind of change. I love the elements of fiction but I see them as very malleable.

I’ve read some reviews that say things like, “nothing really happens in these stories.” Often, this isn’t meant as a slight. How you feel about that sort of description?

I’m okay with it and I’ve likely said it myself a few times. Things happen, but they are quiet things, or mysteries that hardly ever get solved.

How has it been working with the Dorothy Project? What attracted you to publishing with them?

It’s been wonderful. Danielle Dutton is an amazing editor—rigorous and thoughtful—and she helped me think through some of the things Creature was doing as a collection, and how to clear space so it could do them more strongly. I was actually first attracted to the press because Danielle herself is such a talented and interesting writer, and I truly love every book she’s chosen to publish. I also appreciate that one of the missions of the press is to open up a larger conversation about what fiction is and can be—its possibilities rather than its limits—through the books that come out. That feels very exciting and necessary to me.

You’ve been a Chicago expat for a number of years now. How the move has changed your writing?

Well, for one thing, moving to Los Angeles has caused me to write about Chicago! I often set a story in a place I want to spend time in somehow, often because I miss or crave it. Outside of that, being in California has allowed me to surround myself with wide open spaces, like the desert, and that kind of spaciousness is something I often try to achieve and find in my fiction.

I have to ask, how did Thurston Moore end up blurbing your book?

That was the doing of my publishers—maybe they saw some kinship there. It was a very nice surprise.

Nov. 15 at 7:30pm at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E 60th St, https://www.facebook.com/events/664626723559524/; free.

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