Forget the Party: An Interview with Katy Mongeau

"Apostasy" cover

Apostasy is Katy Mongeau’s first book. I first read the book in one sitting, but then found myself rereading the pages in multiple sittings. The reading experience was exactly what I needed in my self-isolation during a pandemic.

The first thing I noticed is the crossed-out title on the cover of Apostasy and then your crossed-out name, Katy Mongeau. I like the references there and how that provides an irresolvable nuance to the reading that follows. I’d like to hear anything you’d like to tell me about that decision. And I’m hoping you’ll tell me what you say the title of the book is when you say the title out loud.

I didn’t want to use my name for a book. I thought for a long time how I could have a physical book without any name on it at all. The idea of names plastered on the front of a book has always seemed really strange to me. Then I was convinced otherwise, and I still tried to think of ways to obscure my name. It clicked the longer that I stared at the title and thought about negation of both belief and authority. I say it out loud just as the word Apostasy, in the same way that all things you might denounce still remain despite your best efforts to bury them.

If the book had been published the way you originally envisioned it, what would it have looked like? I’m interested in the cover, spine, back cover, and the interior. 

I think it would have been a little larger, despite the sparse text. I rely heavily on negative space and silence. And if the world were really my oyster, it would have not been bound at all, but a stack of broadsides, with no back cover or description or blurb whatsoever. I write everything on big stacks of that old accordion perforated printer paper, and it all comes as a flurry of announcements in my mind.

That’s great, you writing on stacks of perforated printer paper. It makes me think of people trying to decipher the data output of a computer. And your description of the ideal book reminds of B. S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates, a novel in a box, though it had a designated beginning and end. It’s fitting that yours doesn’t. 

The perspective initiated by the cross-outs is further complicated two or three more times (depending on one’s perspective) in the first piece, which begins with these lines: “The difference between the black birds / and the black flies was only the distance / from my lazy eye.” I hear Stevens, Dickinson, and Mongeau here and I love that mix. How did you choose that as the first piece in the collection?

I haven’t read that one, but I think of Carolee Schneemann’s piece “ABC—We Print Anything—In The Cards” as a perfect form.

This first piece felt like it set the stage for delusion—being both the architect and on the receiving end of it. The fuzzy moment where you can almost catch a glimpse of reality while you’re still deep down in the hole. How the distance from point A to point B can simultaneously be two very different lengths, or how one moment’s perception might by overshadowed by the next. The whole thing, to me, balances on a thin line between paranoia and intuition. 

Once the reader discovers that thin line between paranoia and intuition, the reading experience oscillates between a type of understanding and a kind of wondering, continually overturning its previous state within lines, from line to line, with each page turn, etc. I’m particularly interested in a some of the really brief pieces that punctuate the book—three pieces that are four words each, two pieces that are only five words each. It feels audacious and perfect, those pieces standing mostly alone on the page. How do you see those pieces functioning in the book?

Aphorisms are one of my favorite things. I’m a big fan of Cioran’s work—all of his pithy and grandiose statements that try to push you into the absolute. It is something very forceful, shaving off all the meat, but there is also a large part of me that believes that language fails, and that that failure is okay. I am more interested in inarticulate thought, what could be provoked by language but that language cannot sustain. Those short fragments, to me, are an abandonment of control, a push to wander off. I want to persuade a reader that what is laconic is rarely simple, and more often suggestive of the colossal. And I know that Bataille has become really trendy, but Inner Experience is my favorite book. There’s a lot that I could borrow from that book to help me answer this, but in the preface, he has this notable line: “The mind moves in a strange world where anguish and ecstasy coexist.” I want to bottle this up and repackage it over and over again.

I always “majored” in fiction. I used to envy others who could write long stories or novels, and I felt inadequate or simple-minded because I couldn’t replicate what I love. But I stopped caring or comparing and realized that the elements of fiction I’m most interested in happened less on the page and more in the mind, and so now I moreso want to reproduce the spaciousness in thought punctuated by more terse pieces. 

The longer the reader spends with the white space on your pages, the implications of those few words, whatever they are on whatever page, become more and more suggestive, a distinct reading experience that is at one extreme on the continuum of the interaction between a writer and a reader. Other writers approach it in other ways—Manguso in 300 Arguments, Levé in most of his books, and, say, Powell in The Interrogative Mood. I’m curious to know more about how you stopped caring or comparing—and how that helped you to ignore certain conventions in writing. 

I really love Levé. I guess I’ve never had a choice. Even though I always wanted to push myself in another direction, nothing ever came of it, and I feel uninspired by controlling anything that comes out. It is very much a compulsive act. I write what I write in the way that I do because I have to, because everything that comes out is like a splinter. The writing I like best feels as though it was either very urgently exorcised, or patiently and painfully extracted from someone—like buckshot. It has to come out, or the body will find a way to push it out. If people ask what I write, I never think to myself “poetry”—I usually think “flash fiction” first, much to the dismay of anyone who ever had to sit in a workshop with me. And really, I guess I just don’t give a shit. I feel lucky if ten people read the book and half of those people enjoy it. I have pretty low expectations of how wide my readership would be. There are so many books in the world, so there’s little value in pandering to anyone with expectations.

I also really appreciate intimacy between a writer and reader. My writing is very private and dear to me. I hate doing readings. I would hope that anyone who read my work felt singled out, like I took them away from a party into a room to tell them something they needed to hear very quietly. I want them to forget the party. The best part of reading is the privilege to see through someone else’s eyes, but you have to carve something out to make room for a reader to see. However that sliver of someone’s mind is removed, I want it in its purest form. Whatever that looks like, I want it plated and served.


Katy Mongeau is a writer from Jacksonville, FL. She holds an MFA from Brown University and currently resides in New York.

Michael Kimball is the author of eight books, including Big Ray, Dear Everybody, and Us. His work has been translated into a dozen languages.

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