MARY JO BANG
WHAT TREES DO YOU PREFER IN THE CENTRE OF BOULEVARDS?
Trees with leaves.
WHAT TYPE OF READING DO YOU DO ON TRAINS (OR AEROPLANES)?
New Yorker Magazines are nice, as is the New York Review of Books. They’re not too heavy.
WHAT BUTTERFLIES DO YOU THINK GIVE THE MOST SATISFACTORY PERFORMANCES?
I don’t rate the performance of butterflies but admire them all equally.
WHAT MOVIE DO YOU WATCH IN SECRET?
Torch Song Trilogy. I don’t so much watch it “in secret” but I’m slightly embarrassed to have watched it so often.
WHAT LITERARY WORKS DO YOU CONSIDER THE MOST UNDER-RATED?
They aren’t the most under-rated but Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnets are often dismissed as being just right for adolescent girls but for no one else. I object to that assessment.
WHAT COLOURS DO MOST FOR YOU AFTER SIX P.M.?
I tend to wear black day and night but I think I would benefit from other colours, if only I had some.
WHAT ANIMALS DO YOU PREFER TO HUMAN BEINGS?
Shrimp are very tasty.
WHAT IS THE PRINCIPAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOUR STATE OF MIND (MOOD) WHEN READING FICTION AND YOUR MIND WHEN READING HISTORY?
I’m much more patient when reading history. When reading fiction, I tend to be hypercritical. My expectations may be set too high, which then dooms me to disappointment.
CAN YOU HEAR ANYTHING IN A SEASHELL OTHER THAN THE ROAR OF THE OCEAN?
I can’t. Can others?
WOULD WINGS BE AN IMPROVEMENT FOR THE HUMAN BODY?
Maybe. If we had wings, perhaps we wouldn’t have invented cars? That would be an ecological improvement.
WHAT MUSIC DO YOU LISTEN TO MOST FREQUENTLY?
Beach House; Cowboy Junkies; Amy Winehouse; Aimee Mann; Dylan; Tracy Chapman; k.d. Lang; Lucinda Williams.
WHAT TWO HISTORICAL CHARACTERS WOULD YOU LIKE TO BRING TOGETHER?
Cleopatra and Emily Dickinson. Of course, we’d have to have translators present. Or perhaps Cleopatra and Artemisia Gentileschi? Still, translators would be required.
WHAT ARTICLE OF CLOTHING DO YOU WISH TO BRING BACK FROM HISTORICAL OBSCURITY?
This question assumes I would like to bring back an article of clothing and I don’t know that I would.
WHAT BUILDING DO YOU CONSIDER THE MOST BEAUTIFUL IN THE WORLD?
There are so many beautiful buildings, no single one could possibly be “the most”! I do like the Eiffel Tower, even if the French don’t.
WHAT SIZE CITY DO YOU THINK THE MOST DESIRABLE?
I like large cities. Paris is quite nice; New York City is as well; that’s the size I prefer but I like to visit other smaller cities. And I even like to occasionally leave the city for the countryside, but only if I don’t have to stay too long and if there are no bears, or if bears, they remain hidden.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE ESSENCE OF FEMININITY?
Hmm. I don’t know that there is an “essence” of femininity.
WHAT WORK FROM A PREVIOUS CENTURY WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO HAVE WRITTEN?
Anything by Kafka but if I had to choose one, it would be the unfinished short story, “Der Bau” (The Burrow).
WHAT FORM OF AFTER LIFE — IF ANY — DO YOU ANTICIPATE?
I think my friends will remember me while they are living. Not everyday but from time to time. The same for my sisters.
WHAT ANIMAL WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE USED AS A MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION IN OUR DOWNTOWN STREETS?
Non-human animals should not be used for transportation in urban areas. No nostalgic horse-drawn carriages, please. No camels. No water buffalo.
WHAT ARE THE MOST OVER-RATED LUXURIES?
While there is no “most,” fancy watches, high-end designer purses and sports cars all seem silly to me. Oh, and diamonds! Diamonds are not only silly but cruel.
**WHAT IS ONE MADE UP FACT, THAT SHOULD BE TRUE, ABOUT WILLIAM BLAKE?
That he would nude sunbathe in his back garden.
WHAT QUESTIONS DO YOU THINK SHOULD BE ADDED TO THIS INTERVIEW?
None, it’s just right. I will now keep an eye on butterflies to see whether I can intuit differences between their performances.
Mary Jo Bang is named Mary Jo and not Mary. Mary Jo Bang is not the Immaculate One. Mary Jo Bang is exquisitely aware that she’s mortal and flawed. Mary Jo Bang is writing a book called THE MUSEUM OF MARY.