Jennifer Savran Kelly lives in live in Ithaca, New York,where they write, bind books, and work as a production editor at Cornell University Press. They were nice enough to take a moment to discuss writing and their novels Endpapers.
Q You have a recently published novel, Endpaper’s from Algonquin books., that deals with issues of love, gender and books, did writing the novel help you with your own journey?
Yes, very much so. I’m bisexual (or probably more accurately pansexual) and was out and proud during college, but I’ve been married to a cisgender, heterosexual man for about 20 years and have essentially been back in the closet for most of that time. I’ve been too afraid of what people might think — both my straight family and friends as well as the LGBTQIA+ community.
For much of my adult life, I’ve also never felt that “female” or “woman” fits me. I’ve always been clear that I’m not transgender, but there haven’t been any mainstream words for genderqueer or nonbinary until fairly recently, so I didn’t have a coherent way to understand my feelings. Also, for a number of years, the question seemed to fade away altogether because I was happy to present as conventionally female.
Then two things happened: violence and political backlash against transgender people and the whole LGBTQIA+ community began to rise and Trump was elected president. I felt pretty desperate to do something, but I shy away from protests and crowds, so writing seemed like my best way to speak out. I wanted people to know that they may have queer family members or coworkers or friends who stay quiet about their identities for a whole multitude of reasons — people they care about who are being personally affected by violence and targeted by harmful legislation. Because otherwise it can be just some abstract idea; people tend to act on issues that have a personal impact. At the very least, I hoped it would inspire people to think twice about their choices in the voting booth.
Then as I wrote, I realized more and more than I was writing about myself, and it was very freeing.
Q Like your main character in your novel, you work in book binding, do you think that not only the text of the work, but the physical composition of a book can affect the reader?
Definitely. I’ve always loved books as physical objects as much as I’ve loved to read them. Their mysterious mechanics hidden from view behind the spine—their sounds and smells. There’s a unique intimacy to books because we bring them into our quietest and most private places, like our beds. Unlike most artforms, books are meant to be interacted with, to form a more personal relationship with.
I always hoped Dawn would be a character that readers could see themselves in. I’m not necessarily talking about gender, but the human struggle to be seen and accepted, because we all have things about us that we fear are unlovable or sides of ourselves that we fear are irreconcilable. For me, the book as an object operates as a sort of invitation to place yourself within its world and within the minds and hearts of the characters.
Also, books tend to be associated with authority, so even on a subconscious level, something about reading a book tends to make the content feel true or important.
Q You had previously written short fiction and nonfiction works, what made you decide to tackle a novel?
I still love short stories because I get more playful and experimental in shorter spaces—since I don’t have to sustain it for too long! But I’ve always loved novels. There’s something about slowing down time and really getting into the characters’ inner most thoughts and getting lost in the world the author’s created; I find it to be simply magical. Sometimes you need to go deeper than a short story allows you to do. Endpapers felt like a good opportunity to do that, and the story itself felt like it was begging for more time as well.
Q Do you think that writing is a good format to shine a light on the power dynamics in the world? Are there any particular ones you want to call people’s attention to?
Yes! Writing is an artform that invites nuance. In a world where we like to simplify things into fake news and real news, dangerous ideas and safe ones (think the conservative push to ban books), writing is a perfect format to wrangle with shades of gray and, therefore, to expose power dynamics we don’t often notice. Stories in particular are so good at this because they allow us intimate access into people’s minds, where things inherently are never black and white.
Some great books I’d love to call attention to are GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER by Bernardine Evaristo, MEMORIAL by Bryan Washington, SCORCHED GRACE by Margo Douaihy, HIJAB BUTCH BLUES by Lamya H.
Q What authors do you like to read for inspiration and techniques?
Miriam Toews, Marilynne Robinson, Bryan Washington, Alexander Chee
Q I know you are busy promoting your current novel, but do you have ideas what you might want to work on next?
I have a few projects in different stages:
Together with my son, who’s 14 years old and has Tourette Syndrome, I’ve written a middle-grade fantasy novel with a 12-year-old protagonist with Tourettes.
On the adult side, I’m finishing up a literary murder mystery that deals with themes of parenthood, anxiety, and forgiveness. And I recently started a new novel that’s a speculative thriller I like to describe as a queer HANDMAID’S TALE meets 9 to 5!
Finally, I’m still writing short stories, which deal with themes of queer, genderqueer, and feminist joy.
Q} if people want more info about you or your books where should they go?
The best places are:
Twitter / Instragram: @savranly
My newsletter “First Draft” on Substack: https://jennifersavrankelly.substack.com/
My website: jennifersavrankelly.com
Final four questions –we ask everybody
Q) When the zombies take over the world where will you be?
On the couch with my husband, son, and cats, munching on popcorn, drinking herbal tea, and watching an action or heist movie.
Q ) What is your favorite Fandom
I’m sorry; I’m not familiar with Fandom!
Q) What piece of art, be it in the form of music, a book, a film or picture, do you think people must experience before they die?
The 1967 masterpiece PLAYTIME by Jacques Tati.
Q) Give one fact that most people would not believe about you?
Whenever I need to do something that makes me nervous, I channel Laura Roslin, President of the Colonies, from Battlestar Galactica.
Author photo credit: (c) Darcy Rose
Cover design credit: Jaya Miceli