Thursday, February 10, 2011

Author Insides - Britt Gambino

Britt Gambino lives in New York, NY, at the end of the universe (aka Washington Heights). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in, DecomP, Xenith, The Arava Review, and Moon Milk Review. This fall, Britt will begin pursuing her MFA at the New School. She enjoys brunch on a Sunday afternoon, making musical compilations and rearranging furniture with her partner, Trisha, who has always believed. To read some of Britt’s ramblings, visit her blog at

Britt's poem "36 Barrow Street" appeared in the Autumn 2010 issue of The Battered Suitcase
Britt, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I was young, around 10 or 11 years old. In fourth grade, I had an assignment to write a parody of James and the Giant Peach – it was called Brittany and the Giant Plum. I wrote the whole story in a black and white composition notebook and I was hooked.

Why do you write?
I write because it helps me process the world around me – writing is my filter, my compass, my lens. It’s simultaneously the hardest and the easiest thing I do.

Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?
The work itself – yes, it is like I imagined it to be. Everything else – as in, what I have to do to support my writing – no.

What do you think makes a good story?
I think a good story works the same way a human body works: it’s got to have guts, well-oiled limbs, and a beating, fiercely-driven heart.

What's your favorite genre to read?
Literary fiction. Poetry: some surrealist and language poetry, objectivist, some confessional – despite the fact that the term has negative connotations, there’s some amazing stuff out there.

Who is your favorite author or poet?
One of my favorite authors is Jeanette Winterson. Written on the Body changed me – and the way I approach my writing – forever. Poets – e.e. cummings, Mark Doty, Marilyn Hacker, Paul Celan, Kim Addonizio, Marie Howe, and Jeffrey McDaniel, to name a few.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion; Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson; Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut; Beauty is Convulsive: The Passion of Frida Kahlo by Carole Maso (actually, anything by Carole Maso); The Sky Isn’t Visible from Here by Felicia C. Sullivan; The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
Everything I’ve ever read by Jeanette Winterson; Heaven’s Coast by Mark Doty; The Sky Isn’t Visible from Here by Felicia C. Sullivan; Memoirs of a Bookbat by Kathryn Lasky; Valencia by Michelle Tea; The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz; Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
I find a lot of inspiration riding the New York City subway. Ironically, it gives my brain the space it needs to think and just go wild on the page. Being naturally introspective tends to jumpstart me, as well – I’m constantly examining and re-examining different aspects of my life. Kind of detrimental as a human being, but great when you’re a poet.

What does your family think of your writing?
They’re supportive, though they don’t always understand it.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I have a full-time job and I’m currently pursuing my MFA – I write as often as possible, wherever possible. I don’t have a strictly defined writing schedule (although I should) – I tend to write either early in the morning on the train or late at night, and I usually allow myself one day a week “off.”

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
I love writing on the subway, in parks, in any public place. For some reason, it’s easier for me to write out of the house. Inside, there are too many distractions. I’m also particular about the types of notebooks I write in and whether I use a pen or pencil.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Knowing when the surreal or abstract is too vague, and on the flip side, when the narrative is too heavy-handed and obvious.

What are your current projects?
I’ve been working a long sequence of poems, which is something I’ve never attempted to do before. My first semester of graduate school has yielded a lot of poems – now, I will begin to sift through and revise.

What are you planning for future projects?
No specific plans yet, but I’d like to try writing some more biography and persona poems.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
I’d like to pass along some great advice that was given to me as a teenage writer. Charles North, a New York poet, once me that you have to write like you’re in the 20th century (or now, the 21st). I have since taken this to mean that you shouldn’t do or use anything that feels false to you. Don’t inject a certain word if you don’t think it belongs there, don’t force your poem into a pantoum if it wants to be a sonnet, etc. For me, it’s become a philosophy of trust your instincts.
And, also important – don’t ever, ever stop writing. If you don’t have people in your life who support what you do, find some. They will help you keep sweating through it.

Where else can we find your work?
Online, at, DecomP, Xenith, Moon Milk Review, The Arava Review, vox poetica, and Caper Literary Journal.

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