Q&A with writer/publisher Rosalie Morales Kearns
Interviewed by Moriah Hampton, PhD, an instructor in the University at Albany's Program in Writing and Critical Inquiry (WCI)
Rosalie Morales Kearns is a writer of Puerto Rican and Pennsylvania Dutch descent. Her publications include the novel Kingdom of Women (Jaded Ibis, 2017), about a female Roman Catholic priest in a slightly alternate near-future, where women are forming vigilante groups to wreak vengeance on rapists, child abusers, and murderers of women; and the fabulist/absurdist story collection Virgins and Tricksters (Aqueous, 2012).
She also edited the short story anthology The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women (Shade Mountain, 2015). Her essays, poems, short fiction, and book reviews have appeared in Berfrois, Witness, and other journals.
Kearns founded Shade Mountain Press in 2014. She describes it as "a feminist press... committed to publishing literature by women, especially women of color, disabled women, women from working-class backgrounds, and LGBTQ women."
The NYS Writers Institute hosted a pair of events with Rosalie Morales Kearns and Alexia Arthurs in 2019.
What has been sustaining you during the pandemic?
Not surprisingly, I would say books. And cats (my partner and I share a home with three of them). Also, even though I feel ambivalent about social media, it also can function as a running conversation among people I like, and I get to dip in to it and take part and have a feeling like we’re going through this, and will get through it, together. Plus: cat pictures.
Deadlines have helped. Not just for my paid freelance editing work, but for anything I need to write or read or respond to. When I have a deadline to meet, I get my act together even if I’ve been feeling droopy and low-energy. The sense that “someone’s waiting for this, I can’t let them down” really motivates me to act.
Have your reading tastes changed at all since Covid-19? Are there authors that you’re (re)turning to because they offer something needed right now?
I’ve definitely been seeking out “light” reading.
I love novels, especially literary fiction, but I find that there are brilliant, important, hard-hitting novels that I just can’t deal with right now. I want stories where the characters turn out okay at the end, where they reconcile, and grow, and learn, and forgive. I’d love to know if there’s a term for this category—maybe “soothers,” the opposite of thrillers in the sense that you’re not constantly wondering what horrible things will befall the characters.
Some recent titles I’ve enjoyed in this “characters-turn-out-okay” genre: Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss, by Rajeev Balasubramanyam; Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman; and Grief Cottage, by Gail Godwin.
In This Ground by Beth Castrodale is a lovely novel about the people who work at a historic cemetery in New England. I particularly enjoyed it because nearby Albany Rural Cemetery is one of my favorite places to take a walk.
I’ve also recently discovered Barbara Pym, a mid-twentieth-century British writer who wrote a number of very “quiet” novels, usually about women in small towns who are really involved in the life of their local church. I love her feminist sensibility, her understated humor, her wry observations about male clerics who take their unearned privilege as their due. And, again, the characters come out okay, though her later works definitely have a melancholy tinge.
The other thing that makes a book more fun is to read it with a book group. Kiley Reid’s novel Such a Fun Age isn’t lighthearted, but I get to discuss it right now with the Goodreads discussion group Literary Fiction by People of Color, which is a big motivator.
Wuthering Heights is about as opposite of heartwarming as you can get, but I’m in a mini-book club (two other people) discussing it online, and it’s so much fun. We had just finished the pairing of Wide Sargasso Sea with Jane Eyre; we’ll be following up Wuthering Heights with Windward Heights, by Maryse Condé.
I should note that my own novel Kingdom of Women belongs on the “non-soothing” list. The violence happens mostly off the page, but a worldwide revolution is raging in the background, and good people come to a bad end. And here’s my shorthand description for the novel manuscript I’m working on right now: Good people suffer terribly, die young. Again, not recommended right now.
You recently wrote an essay on white privilege in the publishing industry, from your perspective as the founder of Shade Mountain Press, publisher of literature by women. Why do you think it’s important to focus on white privilege and gender?
As a writer with writer friends, and as founder of a small press, I’ve learned that there’s so much good work out there, challenging and memorable and beautifully written, that’s as good as or better — often much better — than the books that are being published by mainstream publishers and are winning high-prestige literary awards. This work is sometimes finding its way to small presses, but other times it’s not getting published at all.
I personally know women writers of color who have published a book or some short stories to great acclaim, who are, quite simply, brilliant writers, and they’re so discouraged by lack of interest from publishers that they’ve stopped writing. They have books in them that should be out there in the world, included on “must-read” lists, discussed by book clubs. I should be listing them among the books I’ve been discovering and treasuring. Those books don’t exist.
When I survey the literary landscape, that’s what I see. I see what’s missing.
[ Floorboards and Gatekeepers, published June 9, 2020, in Entropy ]
Your fiction sometimes portrays alternate realities and fabulist twists. You seem to have no trouble imagining beyond the here and now. In looking towards the future, what do you hope comes out of the current health crisis and/or mass protests?
Of course my hope is that racial justice and universal healthcare will be the outcome of the current situation. Is that realistic? I don’t know. Kingdom of Women ends with a glimpse of a world in which patriarchy has been overthrown, but only after decades of war and a plague that has killed off many more men than women. Plagues are convenient for fiction writers.
I come across so many novels that allude to World War I or the Russian Revolution and subsequent civil war, making it part of the character’s backstory or family history, yet I hardly ever see more than a passing mention of the influenza pandemic that was going on at the same time. As if it weren’t stamped in cultural memory the way warfare is, or the wars were so horrific that they overshadowed the horror of a mere disease. It will be interesting to see what novelists do with the pandemic once it’s all over.