Oh, the places she's been
Anna Kasabyan has been writing for Chronicle since we stumbled across her beautiful, eloquent prose on the internet many months ago. She has a way of putting words together that is simultaneously dreamlike and direct. Her first story with us, “147 Bleeker St.” was a short, tight piece of prose that felt like the kind of passing memory one might have while walking home from the bar on a Saturday night.
We approached Anna about putting together a playlist because of her wide range and command of the language. The concept came organically out of her writing style – stories that were tied together not necessarily by a linear plot, but rather by a theme. What she’s come up with is a series of highly stylish, elegantly composed vignettes that stitch together moments from all over the world. But don’t call them travel diaries – Anna’s writing is thoroughly literature and is meant to be pondered as much for the quality of its prose as its exotic locations. Lines like this one, from the story Lor, "I cast an unearned dominion over this place from a mold made entirely of all the beginnings I had nothing to do with, but now have everything to do with me," pepper the playlist with untold beauty. Simple statements whose truth value is contextual, is of-the-moment, are a hallmark of Anna’s writing.
We sat down with Anna in light of this new release to chat about her writing, process, and inspiration. We’d like to thank Anna for putting together this fantastic playlist – writing something of this size is a lot of work, and we went back-and-forth through a handful of drafts and iterations.
Tyler: Anna, when we first started talking about putting together a playlist, we didn’t have much in the way of direction. You’d submitted a story to us (which didn’t end up making it into the playlist) that I thought would make a jumping off point, but over the next several months your idea of the playlist evolved. Can you tell me about how you went about deciding what this thing was going to be about?
Anna: The initial drafts I sent over were the starts of three narratives of which we picked one: Havana Blues, (not the movie) that ultimately shaped the thematic arc of the playlist. The structure gave me the opportunity to stay flexible. Instead of narrowly focusing on building a narrative, I got to indulge in smaller, more singular details as laterally as I wanted to. All in all, it became an ode to fleeting moments.
Tyler: “Place Names” reads to me as if it’s a dream’s representation of real life. Did you consciously create this dreamlike sensation in your writing, or did it just come out of the process organically?
Anna: People closest to me tell me I over-romanticize, I fascinate over how cinematic life can be–that I’m naïve to my own exaggerations–and I believe them. I’m an enabler, I daydream–I try to maintain an honest relationship with my memories. But why should I be unbiased? I’m not a news anchor. I’ve accepted that my metric for a standout moment is my own–and I think my friends have too, proving that even the jaded can surrender to subjectivity. The dreamlike nature of Place Names is the result of my sincerest representation of a specific kind of friendship; the familial, tender kind of friendship you long for when you’re a child–the kind that makes you feel like you’re missing out in its absence. Not all of us are blessed with one of those.
Tyler: The locations in “Place Names” vary quite widely – some of them are named, many of them are not. Is each story rooted in a place that you’ve been?
Anna: Yes, all of the locations in the playlist are places I’ve spent time in. I’m one of those kooks who keeps their passport in their bag at all times and uses it as an ID.
Tyler: Something that struck me in reading this playlist is how at-home the characters always seem to feel. This first hit me when reading “To Lor,” but I see it in many of the other pieces as well. Do you feel this sense of belonging when you’re travelling? Or is the writing a way of wishing that into existence?
Anna: If I’m an outsider, I’m setting a precedent. Even if I don’t mean to, I’m speaking for more than just myself; I represent everything I know I am and everything others presume of me. How is it then that despite this heightened self-awareness I can still hang my hat in a new place? I’m not sure. What I do know is that there is no quicker, more effective way to feel alienated from your surroundings than getting on a bright red double-decker hop-on-hop-off bus. The women in the stories don’t concern themselves with popular landmarks, destinations or guided tours. They engage with individuals who are not on vacation; individuals who are often serving and observing outsiders requiring conveniences from their homeland that, as native residents, they themselves may never have the opportunity to experience firsthand. I truly think traveling–especially out of one’s country of origin–is the richest privilege that someone with the means can afford themselves. Far from home, the characters in the playlist are receptive, unencumbered and indulgent–you could argue that this is how most people feel when they’re at home: receptive, unencumbered, indulgent. As for the writing bit–you can only manifest so much. Belonging is a gift others give you.
Tyler: What new projects do you have in the works?
Anna: I’m piecing together a book of short stories to be completed by the end of this year–the next iteration of some of the material from Place Namescan be found there in addition to new, longer pieces I’ve been working on. I’m most excited about that. In the meantime I’ll be messily eating bodega sandwiches and taking covert videos of strangers’ dogs. And writing–when there’s time.
About Anna Kasabyan
Emigrating from Armenia, Anna Kasabyan became an American citizen in Seattle where she was raised. Kasabyan lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a BFA from Cornish college of the Arts. You can find out more about Anna on her website.
Read “Place Names” by Anna Kasabyan, out now on Chronicle.