A Conversation with Stephanie Barbe Hammer
By Redd Williams
When you lectured at UCR Palm desert last December, you called your discussion “Stealing from the Greats.” Which of the “greats” are you often “stealing” from in your own work?
Haha! Great question. I am a huge thief of German literature, which I think is under-rated, under-known and extremely important for the development of modern, and avant-garde literature. I am crazy about and rip off huge chunkettes of:
ETA Hoffmann, a drunken fairy-tale writer, and very much admired by Freud.
Novalis, a nutty Romantic writer, who loves symbolism and dreams,
The Dadaists (though technically Swiss, French and Eastern European as well as German) are amazingly fun, energetic, satirical, pacifistic and really the first performance artists.
Berthold Brecht who writes creepy plays which are about sex and power.
Which three books do you think every aspiring writer should read and include in their library?
Hmmm. This one is hard. I’d say something by Camus, something by Aimee Bender, and something by Richard Russo. That’s the fiction list. The poetry list would be: something by Tess Gallagher, something by Celan, and something by Homer (the Iliad rather than the Odyssey). For non-fiction: Augustine, Ana Maria Spagna’s Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus, and a DIY book of your choice. That’s 9 books, but remember I’m a world literature person.
If you had to create an anthology of short stories and essays to teach one of your courses, what would you title it, and which three authors/ essayists would you include? Why those authors?
Nice. I would call it: “Failures, Frauds, Fantasms, and Things That Go Bump” and would include Hoffmann, Aimee Bender (goddess of the modern short story as fairy-tale), and Goldberg on writing (because he’s really smart and also easy to understand).
You’ve said that the best sex scenes are either violent or nothing happens. In your opinion, which writer has created the best sex scene you have read?
A really interesting example of porno as literature is SAFE WORD by Molly Weatherfield. It is sex scene after sex scene, but then there’s all this erotica of narrative stuff in it, it’s clearly influenced by Sade as well as by 1001 Nights, and because it’s so nuanced it is really interesting. Sex scenes that work in literature aren’t ever just about the bodies; they are about all kinds of other things, including history, memories, culture, and so on.
What made you realize that you were a writer and can you tell me about your writing process?
I wrote my first poem when I was 6. My babysitter said it was great. My mother found it worrisome. So I went underground as a writer for many many years. But I always knew I was one; I have always written -- poetry in particular, which I feel very at home with. Then an undergrad student at UC Riverside said I should submit a poem to Mosaic, the UCR student literary journal. Then I took a course at the UCLA Extension with Rob Roberge. I came fully out of the writing closet with Aimee Bender, who gave a year-long course at the UCLA Extension.
Do you type your first draft, or is it always handwritten?
I generally type, because my handwriting is so terrible. If I write something down, I have to immediately copy it onto the computer, or else I can’t read what I’ve written!
Schiller is one of the people who gave me courage to get out of the writing closet, because he was so brilliant and so troubled, and he died so young. He struggled with enormous odds -- personally and economically -- but made plays that are still performed all over the world. I don’t think he ever thought he was a genius. So that helped me get over the fact that I’m not one, and helped me to say “what the hell –“
In Sublime Crime: Fascination, Failure, and Form in Literature of the Enlightenment, you analyze some works that feature criminal protagonists. Who is your all-time favorite criminal protagonist and why?
Okay -- here’s the big confession. I love love love Alex from A Clockwork Orange. I’m a feminist and a pacifist and I just adore him. I love the way he talks and I love how he’s just sort of indomitable. He tries to fight against those social machines, and what’s not to like about that?
Your short stories can be found in various literary journals, including The Bellevue Literary Review and Rhapsoidia; do you have any plans on publishing a collection of your fictional work?
I’m shopping around a collection right now: “Guilty Creatures and Other Tales.” I may self-publish and sell it directly. It’s fun to pull all those stories together and see what they have in common. Stay tuned and thanks for asking!