An interview with Elizabeth Costello from The Write Stuff series:
Elizabeth Costello writes arts and culture commentary, nonprofit communications, fiction, and poetry. Her chapbook RELIC was recently released by Two Way Mirror Books. She has taught creative writing to graduate students and incarcerated youth and yoga to people of all ages and backgrounds. You can find more of her writing on arts and culture at elizabethscostello.com and tweet her @MameOzenfant.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I’m a writer, editor, and yogi.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
Creating/staying in a generative and open mindset.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Don’t try to be a writer if you don’t enjoy reading.
What’s been most important to your writing: education, or the real world? Why?
Well education is real, but I would have to say the real world. There is no substitute for uncurated experience.
If you could give advice to your 15 year old self, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to pursue what you love, find your strengths and build on them. You can always learn more about what comes naturally.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her/their story?
I don’t know if favorite is the right word, but I’ve been thinking a lot about my great grandmother, Jean West Maury, who was a journalist and wrote Old Raven’s World, a YA book that takes place in Alaska and features retellings of Tlingit myth about Old Raven, Raven the Creator, called Nas-sha-ki-yethl, which means Raven-at-the-head-of-the-Nass. It was published in 1931 and is a product of its time, but in her way, I think Jean was wrestling with some of what we now recognize as identity politics.
What’s wrong with society today?
Greed has been encouraged to flourish, and often we forget that we are not actually limited to the choices suggested by the marketplace. We also forget that we have the power to heal ourselves.
Where do you go to find sanctuary?
To friends, to the yoga mat, to the city sidewalks and the country trails.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
I’d like the wealthy to be taxed more heavily, I’d like there to be a social services network that really serves all people, I’d like corporations generating waste to be restrained and their influence in politics to be mightily reduced. I’d love to see a waste reduction bill passed and enforced and really progressive/aggressive legislation enacted to address climate change. The list could get pretty long here…you know everybody should have a fair shake, and that means not just everybody who wants one gets a college education, but that jobs considered as “unskilled” labor are well paid.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
Art is the act of making in response to being. It is absolutely necessary. Because it’s how we know ourselves and one another, it’s how we contextualize war and suffering and celebrate peace.
What are you working on right now? Or: what kind of work would you like to do?
I’m working on a novel inspired by family history, which was shaped by the Second World War, during which my grandfather and great grandfather were prisoners in the Philippines. But it takes place after the war and focuses on a mother and daughter in 1948 and 1964 respectively, and on the relationship of reality to heroic myth. Oh, and there’s a ghost in it. And a heaping tablespoon of lust and sexual awakening.
I am also working on a tarot deck. I have drawn 64 out of 78 cards so far. I’m making the original art on 10.5 by 14 inch watercolor paper with Copic markers (that look like paint on the page, great brilliant colors). I have notes and ideas for the accompanying booklet, but haven’t started writing it in earnest yet. Eventually these larger images and notes will be the basis for an actual deck that I will gladly sell to you!
I just published a chapbook called RELIC with Two Way Mirror Books and I’m proud to have one in an anthology that will be published in a month or two, proceeds from which support Moms4Housing. I’ll post about that and the cards and more at elizabethscostello.com.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
A performance at ODC or The Lab or Z Space or Shotgun Players/Ashby Stage or CalPerformances or the Uptown or the Starline Social Club, food and drinks with friends.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Cardamom, night blooming jasmine, sage, vetiver, sandalwood, chocolate, coffee, baking bread, rosemary, lavender… oh there are so many!
What are you unable to live without?
If you got an all-expenses-paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
Just one? Lately I’m thinking of Mexico a lot, wanting to travel there. I’ve been years ago, but never very far south, I’d like to spend time in Oaxaca. On the other hand, a trip to Norway sounds great. I’d like to hike around there with some naturalists and learn about the flora and fauna.