Issue 35, Final Fringe

A Chat With Sarah Sweeney

by Fringe Magazine, Sarah Sweeney 08.02.2010

Fringe republished Sarah Sweeney’s excellent nonfiction piece, “Tell Me If You’re Lying” this week, and chatted with her about the piece and what this publication (her first) meant to her. Hint: It changed her life.

Looking back at your piece now, three years after it was published, what do you notice?

There’s lots of weird humor in this story, I think. A few years ago, when I was doing readings promoting Best of the Web 2008, which this story was drafted to, it occurred to me that people were always laughing, even in places that I didn’t find particularly funny at first. But it’s definitely a tragicomedy, and I appreciate that most about it.

In what ways is this piece typical or atypical in terms of your work?

My writing is pretty honest. I’ve quite recently delved into writing more nonfiction essays — including more stories about my father — and my poetry is just as exposed. I have few secrets. But when “Tell Me If You’re Lying” first came out, I confess I did have a momentary freak-out about what my family and others would think. I knew there was no going back. But that feeling passed in an instant. I’ve received so many positive reactions from readers, including one writer who teaches this story at Rutgers University — my proudest moment. (Though he did tell me that his students all thought I was crazy).

How did your brother and mother feel about this essay?

I’ve always been the family oddball, so they were like here we go again. But we’re Southern and love talking about ourselves, so my brother and mother love it. We don’t have a lot of family memorabilia, so I think my stories serve as a kind of record for them: we did exist — delinquency, aliens, and all.

Did you work solely from memory to write this? Did you interview your family at all?

I did work solely from memory. Things I haven’t thought of in years I can conjure through the process of writing, and it’s amazing what comes back. This story was especially transporting: it was as though I was watching a movie of us there on my father’s couch, listening to him talk about being abducted, watching Alien Autopsy!

What have you been writing lately?

Lots of poems. I go in and out of spells — all winter it was nonfiction, nonfiction, nonfiction, and now I’m back to poetry. I think summer and fall are my poetry seasons — regeneration and the withering. Winter is a hard freeze here in New England, which I’m not used to, so I like to recall the South, and that gets me writing more stories.

What have you been reading lately?

I’ve just wrapped up Tinkers by Paul Harding, and I’m headed on vacation in a few short days and on my docket is Lips Unsealed by Belinda Carlisle (of the Go Go’s fame) and Secret Life by poet Michael Ryan. Some dark beach reads, for sure.

Fringe was your first publication. Did anything change for you afterward?

I got a job because of it! I was interviewing at Harvard and one of my interviewers suddenly got up and left the room. I thought, that’s really weird, but he’d seen this publication on my résumé and went off to check it out. I would think most people would balk a little at a story like this, but he said it was lovely, and I got the gig!

We’re proud and delighted to hear that!

Got a comment about the interview or the story? Post it here!

Fringe Magazine

Fringe Magazine

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Fringe: it’s the noun that verbs your world, and the magazine you’re reading. We publish work that is political or experimental in form or content and define both “political” and “experimental” broadly. “Political” can mean work that incorporates or comments on current events or it can mean literature and art that further personal dignity and advocate human rights. We regard “experimental” work as work that breaks with the canon, takes formal risks, or explores a strange or impossible point of view.

Sarah Sweeney

Sarah Sweeney

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Sarah Sweeney’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Quarterly West, Tar River Poetry, The Pinch, The Collagist, Waccamaw, Minnetonka Review, PANK, and others. A native of North Carolina, she lives and writes in Boston. Fringe was her first publication.

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