Kais Solveig Preus, author of The War Requiem
Memoir & Creative Nonfiction category, sponsored by Bradshaw Celebration of Life Centers
Each week leading up to the 33rd annual Minnesota Book Awards announcement, we are featuring exclusive interviews with our 36 finalists. You can also watch the authors in conversation with their fellow category finalists here.
In a year defined by a pandemic and its fallout, virtually everything about our lives has changed in some way. How has COVID-19 impacted your writing habits and preferences? Has the unique zeitgeist of the past year influenced your writing output in any ways that you can pinpoint?
This year has been full of grief and hardship, and a persistent, looming sense of: “What next?” My writing has been my balm, my escape. When I was stuck in my home or forced to cancel travel plans, I found agency and excitement in the people and places unfurling across the page in my new project. In a very practical sense, writing took center stage for me this year as I underwent job changes due to COVID-19. Stepping away from what had been a secure, full-time job was terrifying at first. But now, many months into cobbling together part-time work with freelancing and writing, I realize that this shift might have been the best thing that could have happened for my writing. I have always thought of myself as a writer first and foremost, and now I’ve had the opportunity to put that into practice when it comes to the ways I spend the hours of my day.
Would you tell us one or two things about your finalist book that you are particularly proud of, and why? (Sure, it may feel a bit un-Minnesotan to say so, but it’s not boasting if we ask!)
I’m proud of many things about my book, the first being that it exists in a form that someone other than me can hold and read and think about. Within the work itself, I’m very proud of the structure. Weaving a braid out of Benjamin Britten’s life, Wilfred Owen’s life, and my own, felt audacious, but I worked hard to make it feel natural and inevitable on the page. The book is experimental, but I never wanted it to feel reckless or disrespectful or overwrought. Rather, I wanted each strand of the braid to illuminate parts of the other narratives, creating echoes that reverberate throughout the work and expand outward to the reader’s own experience, folding them into the overarching story. A story which is, I think, really about finding and creating art and beauty and truth in a world that is sometimes harsh and cruel.
What do you hope that your audience learns or takes away from your book?
I want my audience to take away a feeling and understanding that art brings us closer together, and that if we follow the sparks of curiosity within us, we will find beauty and meaning.
Minnesota enjoys a reputation as a place that values literature and reading. If this sentiment rings true for you, what about our home state makes it such a welcoming and conductive place for writers?
Oh! I love our literary state so much. I have always been proud to be a Minnesotan, and being a writer and reader here is such a treat. In non-Covid times, I love attending readings and classes, and visiting our amazing independent bookstores. Last year I started teaching writing classes at the Loft, which has been an absolute joy. Not only do we have a wonderful and supportive community, I find that the weather––yes, the weather!––is very conducive to writing and reading. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of the seasons, but the deep, long winters provide me with the perfect environment to cuddle up next to my dog, Cleo, and spend hours reading and writing. Snow falling outside, coffee nearby, words unfurling all around me––perfection.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer with an interest in your category?
My advice for any writer is to just keep writing. The fact that something within you is telling you that you want to be a writer is all you really need to know. Listen to that feeling, protect that feeling, and grow that feeling by writing. I also think it’s important to let go of “shoulds.” Don’t worry about what you “should” write or what kind of books you “should” read. Follow your curiosity and listen to yourself. Write what makes your heart beat faster, what brings you joy, what brings you solace. Life is too short to cave to the “shoulds” of others.
Tell us something about yourself that is not widely known! (It doesn’t have to be about your writing.)
In addition to being a writer, I am also an abstract painter! I write and paint out of my small home studio in Minneapolis, and I find that toggling back and forth between the two forms really frees me up. Painting allows me to access the parts of me that are more gestural and experimental (probably because I put less pressure on myself in that arena), and those feelings naturally seep into my writing practice.
If you are interested, I sell some of my pieces on my website, kaiapreus.com.
Kaia Solveig Preus teaches writing in Minneapolis. She received her MFA from Hollins University and was a 2019 Author Fellow through the Martha’s Vineyard Institute for creative writing. This is her first book.