Quick Temper with Gabrielle Spear

Gabrielle Spear design

Gabrielle Spear is a poet, community organizer, and educator based in Queens and raised in Northwest Arkansas. She was named a Goucher College Kratz Summer Writing Fellow, a finalist in LUMINA’ s 2017 Borders and Boundaries Nonfiction Contest, and a Brooklyn Poets Fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sukoon, Sonora Review, fields magazine, and Jet Fuel Review among others. She is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace’s New York City chapter.

Here’s Quick Temper with Gabrielle Spear–

Why do you write?

A few years ago, I would have answered this question by saying I write to create empathy, but these days I’m much less interested in writing as a form of empathy, and more interested in thinking about empathy, especially in the hands of white writers, as part of white supremacy. White people tend to think that being empathetic means you’re not being racist, when in fact, compassion itself is often wielded as a tool of white supremacy and an excuse for inaction.

Moving away from empathy, then, I would say that I write to grieve, I write as memorial, I write to create despite of, I write to imagine new worlds, I write for my past self who needed my poems so much, I write because I have always liked the challenge of putting things that feel language-less into words.

Who do you hope reads your work?

I’m currently working on a manuscript about borders, whiteness, Catholicism, and my time abroad researching the genocides in Rwanda and Palestine. When I returned from both this trips, I was inconsolable. I felt completely incapable of explaining to friends and family all I had witnessed and learned. That being said, I hope all the people I cried to (mostly very supportive professors) read my work. I hope the Catholic community I grew up in reads this manuscript. I hope white people who are on the cusp of learning about our country’s long history of empire read my poems.

Where does the anger in your work come from? How does it manifest?

In a July interview in BOMB Magazine, R.O. Kwon, the author of The Incendiaries, explains: “I’ve thought sometimes that everything I write might be a song to the God in whom I can’t believe.” I read her words and nearly burst into tears. The anger in my work comes from exactly that: grief at the reliable God I was raised to believe in, grief at empires and borders and prisons and policing, grief over this gorgeous world we are destroying. The grief, and rage that comes forth from it, often feels endless. It’s taken me a long time to realize that poems are how I pray now.

Angry book recommendations for angry readers?

Recommending books, especially angry books, is my favorite thing! Sadness is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher, Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez, There There by Tommy Orange, Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli, The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch, Look by Solmaz Sharif, Seam by Tarfia Faizullah, and bound by Claire Schwartz. I’m looking forward to Marwa Helal’s Invasive species and Hala Alyan’s The Twenty-Ninth Year, which will both be out in 2019.

Gabrielle Spear will be reading with An Angry Reading Series S1 E2.


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