HPA: When you are writing I’m curious about who you feel responsibility to, if anyone?
JN: To be honest, I’m very self-centred as a writer. Most of my work is a mode of self-exploration/interrogation, it points inward for the most part. I’m really doing it for myself. I think my lack of looking out at the world is one of the failures of my writing. I feel like I should write more about things outside of my own body and imagination, but I still have so much to figure out about myself that I need to write my way through, and I feel unqualified to discuss most topics.
There’s a famous saying along the lines of ‘write what you want to read’. I don’t follow that advice, it actually seems capitalist in a way, like ‘only write what you think will sell’. I write what I want to write. If I can get something out of the process, there is less pressure on the end result to be something with inherent value. That said, I do feel a strong need/desire make things that will be important to people, especially other trans and non-binary gendered people. A big part of this is wanting validation, but another part is understanding how lucky I was to be introduced to the idea of trans and non-binary genders through poetry and hoping that I can provide that same introduction to others through my own work. The responses to the book that have meant the most to me have been from non-binary/genderqueer people who have told me that they felt seen/represented by my writing.
HPA: Finally, I just wanted to ask what you are working on now, what you are currently reading, and I wondered if you could speak a little bit more about your project Food Court with Carolyn DeCarlo?
JN: I’m not actively working on any writing projects at the moment, almost entirely because I struggle to find dedicated writing time while working full-time and doing all the other things that life requires of me. The only writing I’m doing right now is jotting down a phrase or a few sentences into a Google Doc once every few days with the vague idea that it might one day turn into something. I am cutting back my work hours later this month though, so I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to write more soon. My next big writing project will probably be trying to finish my novel, which I wrote a first draft of for my Master of Arts. After that I just want to make the weirdest books that I can, I have a lot of ideas that I’ve been holding onto for too long.
My current reading is mostly just books that catch my eye at the library I work at. I recently read Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky, which I thought was amazing. It’s stylistically similar to some of the work I found online in the early 2010’s, but with a political and emotional heft that really elevates it.
Food Court is a reading/zine series that Caro and I run. It began as a larger collective in 2014, but it’s just been the two of us for a few years now. Basically, we organise sporadic readings in Pōneke (and occasionally further afield) and create a zine to go along with each reading which features writing by all the readers as a kind of artefact of the event. We started the project because we had noticed that almost all of the local readings featured the same few established writers over and over again. We wanted to create a space where less established writers would have an opportunity to share their work. That goal remains the core of our mahi now.
We just finished putting together a zine titled Whanake | Rise, raising money for Black Visions Collective, an organisation based in Minnesota, focused on Black Liberation.
We’re currently starting a new project under the Food Court name: a small bookstore in Newtown that will exclusively feature publications from small/independent presses. There will also be a small amount of desk space for people to use for writing and we hope to run a lot of events out of the space. It’s very exciting. Neither of us has run a physical space before and we’re learning a lot through the process, just like we do with every project.