36 Books Blog: Claire Wahmanholm

Each day leading up to the 2019 Minnesota Book Awards Ceremony, we’ll be featuring an exclusive interview with one of our 36 finalists. Learn more about these incredible local writers and gear up to see the winners announced live in person April 6.

Interview with Claire Wahmanholm, author of Wilder

Category: Poetry, sponsored by Wellington Management, Inc.

How does it feel to be a Minnesota Book Award finalist?

It feels pretty surreal, especially since Wilder is my first book. The poetry finalists this year are also off the chain, so it’s an incredible honor to be in their company. It feels ridiculous.

Tell us something about your finalist book that you want readers to know.

The title of the book is pronounced like the final syllables of “bewilder” rather than like the comparative form of “wild.” There’s no real way to say that without sounding super pretentious, so I’ll just lean into it. It’s pretentious and I’m sorry, everyone. Please read the book anyway!

Let us know a little bit about your writing life. What brought you to a writing career and how did you become a published author?

I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve gotten a lot of rejections since 2010 (when I started sending things out in earnest), so I’m pretty good at it by now. It’s hard not to become a published author without a lot of rejections along the way, and if I had been sensitive about failure, I would have given up a long time ago. I think it’s pretty hard to survive on talent alone. Like, yes, talent gets you started, but it’s not what keeps you going—I’ve seen loads of people with serious poetic genius give up writing for one reason or another. And maybe because I’m both a masochist and a narcissist, I remain undeterred in my maniacal insistence that I’m not doing something absurd or worthless by being a poet.

Minnesota is often ranked highly as a state that values literature and reading. In your experience, what is it about our state that makes it such a welcoming place for writers and book creators?

I feel like this is a chicken/egg problem—did the organizations/presses act as a magnet for writers/artists, or did they succeed here because the community was already invested in the literary arts? Whatever the case, the scene seems to function pretty symbiotically right now. And it’s not like the scene is clustered only around our major presses or our academic programs the way it is in some other parts of the country—there are countless reading series, for example, that have sprung up (and sustained themselves) totally independently of those venues. Furthermore, programs and organizations like MN Prison Writing Workshop, MIZNA (the only Arab-American lit mag in the nation, I think?), Black Table Arts, New Native Theater, FAWK, Poetry Asylum (and seriously this is maybe just a tenth of the goodness that’s happening here) have done an awesome job at centering historically marginalized and disenfranchised voices. There’s always more work to do, of course, and the fact that these organizations exist at all is tied up in the fact that the Twin Cities are still heavily segregated.

On another level, maybe there’s less of an emphasis on hype and posturing, so we can hunker down and focus on the actual work and on supporting each other in a way that doesn’t feel competitive or slimy? Or maybe it’s a sense of needing to band together against outsider perceptions of the Midwest? People get really excited about the good stuff that’s coming out of the Cities, so that obviously helps sustain the community as well. Like, yes, we get excited about our out-of-town writers too, but there’s not the sense that you have to look outside the state for “serious” writing. There’s no inferiority complex here.

What is something you are good at that few people know about?

There is a video game called Katamari Damacy and I am unbeatable at it. But I also broadcast this to anyone within the first ten minutes of meeting them, so that doesn’t *really* answer the question.

What do you love about libraries?

Libraries are the kind of thing where, if they didn’t already exist, you wouldn’t believe they’d be possible. They’re such a progressive, democratizing project overall. And one of the few places you can go in a city that doesn’t demand anything of you, monetarily. If you think about how few places there are like that, it’s sort of mind boggling.

Claire Wahmanholm
Claire Wahmanholm is the author of Night Vision (winner of the 2017 New Michigan Press/DIAGRAM chapbook contest) and Wilder (winner of the 2018 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry). Her second collection, Redmouth, is forthcoming from Tinderbox Editions in 2019. Her poems have most recently appeared in, or are forthcoming from, The Louisville Review, The Los Angeles Review, The Paris-American, anthropoid, Bomb Cyclone, Fairy Tale Review, New Poetry from the Midwest 2017, PANK, Bennington Review, Newfound, DIAGRAM, Best New Poets 2015, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Journal, and The Kenyon Review Online. She lives and teaches in the Twin Cities.