Member Profile: Carmiel Banasky

MEMBER PROFILE: Carmiel Banasky

When and why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I was honored to be asked to be a mentor for the PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship and became a member at that time. I was involved with PEN in other cities, attending events and fundraisers, but I hadn’t known the community that is synonymous with membership. It felt like I had joined the coolest, most inclusive club.

What is most meaningful to you about PEN Center USA?
The community of writers that PEN Center USA fosters. On a very personal level, I feel like I belong in L.A. partly due to PEN Center USA. This is my tribe!

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
The Freedom To Write articles and petitions are the only newsletters I’m subscribed to that I don’t delete out of hand! But seriously, the campaigns have moved me to research and write. (I recently wrote an article—for one of my many day jobs—based on the “end harassment for documenting the police” PEN American petition, to help people exercise their First Amendment rights with the aid of legal language.) Freedom To Write means being more aware of the wide range of the writer’s life. The work PEN Center USA does lifts me out of my safe L.A. bubble and asks me to interrogate my own privilege.

Writers are using their digital media platforms to engage with readers and other writers on serious topics. Can you give an example of a writer or organization that is doing this well?

I admire Ursula K. Le Guin’s ability to at once embrace the times and protest aspects of them. She uses the digital world, including her own blog and articles, to tackle topics like sexism, Amazon, Trump, local environmental issues, and her cat. Le Guin has seen it all as a woman writing literary genre works over the last several decades and dispenses her wisdom and experience across so many platforms.

And, I believe, simply writing exactly what she wants, in both her fiction and nonfiction, instead of seeking to be on the cusp, feels like a revolutionary act. (She is, perhaps, the one writer who will always remain on a pedestal for me, if you can’t tell.) I would call her a political writer. She addresses issues from the emotions they stir in her. I think this is our responsibility as writers—not to take on issues because they are Important with a capital I, but to take them on as big-feelers, and to interrogate where our gut reactions come from and where our own biases reside.

What is the one book you wish you had written and why?
So many books! Can I say two? I wish I had written Left Hand of Darkness, continuing from UKG—I’ve never read a friendship like that before, or a book about gender with a message that is both direct and completely character-driven. Or Deadwood by Pete Dexter—I’m always trying to build big worlds of language in my historical fiction like he does.

What is your favorite quote?
Can I be difficult again and give you two?

"You do not have to be good. / You do not have to walk on your knees / for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. / You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves. / Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. / Meanwhile the world goes on. / Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain / are moving across the landscapes, / over the prairies and the deep trees, / the mountains and the rivers. / Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, / are heading home again. / Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting— / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things." –Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

“Feminist thinking teaches us all, especially, how to love justice and freedom in ways that foster and affirm life.” –bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
I would like to have dinner with Claudia Rankine. I have a lot to learn and she blows my mind every time she speaks. It might mean I’d be a silent dinner guest and just listen…

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a literary fantasy novel (yes, UKG-influenced again) plus a handful of TV pilots—one about gentrification in L.A., one about turn-of-the-twentieth-century prostitutes, and another about the current adult industry. I like exploring all of these interests and taking my genre writing as seriously as my weird literary stuff, but I’m a bit spread thin!

Carmiel Banasky is the author of the novel The Suicide of Claire Bishop (Dzanc, 2015), which Publishers Weekly calls "an intellectual tour de force." Her work has appeared in Glimmer Train, American Short Fiction, Slice, Guernica, PEN America, The Rumpus, and NPR, among other places. She earned her MFA from Hunter College, where she also taught Creative Writing. She is the recipient of awards and fellowships from Bread Loaf, Ucross, Ragdale, Artist Trust, I-Park, and other foundations. After four years on the road at writing residencies, she now teaches in Los Angeles. She is from Portland, Oregon.