Hobart Festival of Women Writers is excited to welcome Nancy Agabian as a Participating Writer for Festival 2019.
Nancy Agabian is a writer, teacher, and literary organizer working in the spaces between race, ethnicity, cultural identity, feminism and queer identity. Nancy Agabian was honored as a finalist for the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially-Engaged Fiction for her recently completed novel The Fear of Large and Small Nation, which is based on her experiences as a Fulbright scholar in Armenia. She is the author of the memoir Me as her again: True Stories of an Armenian Daughter (2008), a Lambda Literary Award finalist for LGBT Nonfiction and shortlisted for a William Saroyan International Prize, and the mixed-genre work Princess Freak (2000), which deals with young women’s sexuality and rage. Nancy Agabian earned an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from Columbia University’s School of the Arts and has become an award-winning teacher herself. In 2012 she was awarded for excellence in teaching at Queens College, where she taught as an adjunct for a decade. She currently is teaching in the Writing Program at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.
Nancy Agabian shared insights on her writing, cultural and political work with Stephanie Nikolopoulos in this Q&A
SN: In Me as her again: True Stories of an Armenian Daughter you write in particular about your grandmother and your aunt. In what ways do you think women are the keepers of family history?
NA: I think women hold onto family history because of the hurts they endure due to sexism and misogyny: at least this was the case for my mother, being raised by a single mother who died young. I think she felt her mother’s life could have been so much different if she’d had more options in life. She told stories to heal the pain of her loss. I think my aunt (my father’s sister) held onto family history for similar reasons, since her mother was a genocide survivor who told stories of the atrocities she’d experienced. But my aunt was also a painter who gained a strong sense of self and identity from the family stories and how they intersected with Armenian history and culture, and with Armenian women’s resilience, survival, and success.
SN: Your novel The Fear of Large and Small Nations flits back and forth in time and place. How did you structure your writing process? Did you create a tight outline from the beginning that encompassed the entire plot, or did you focus on one place at a time working chronologically or one time period moving between two spaces?
NA: I did a bit of both. Originally this was going to be a nonfiction book. I had written a series of observational blog posts in Armenia during the year I lived there, mostly about democracy burgeoning under an oppressive Soviet legacy, especially for women and LGBT people. A few years later, I wanted to create a book with these posts; at the time, I was writing in my journal about a troubled relationship that I was enduring in NYC, with a man I had met in Armenia, and I was finding similarities in themes of loss, longing, and how the personal connected with the political. So I wrote about what I was going through in the present and connected these stories thematically to the blog posts to create chapters, sometimes using fictional elements, such as writing in third person, to connect them. I tightened the plot in later revisions once I gave myself more permission to fictionalize. Writing multiple narratives helped to tell a wider story of how public and private lives can become fractured because of societal oppression and inherited trauma.
SN: You moved to Hollywood and became a performance artist, and your book Princess Freak includes both poetry and performance texts. How has performance impacted your writing style?
NA: When I first started reading my writing aloud it opened a door for me in terms of confidence and self-esteem — to be able to stand in front of an audience and say out loud, I’m a bisexual Armenian princess freak, was very liberating! So performance got intertwined with my self-definition and with finding my voice. Since then, performance has helped me to understand voice — especially spoken language vs. written language. It has allowed me to feel the pressure of a listening audience, which helps to edit and craft a text. I’m looking forward to reading at Hobart Festival 2019 and am so excited that regular readings of the writers are such an integral part of the program!
For Hobart Festival 2019, Nancy Agabian will present the workshop,
Writing Lyrics: Image, Emotion, and Justice
Though we use the word lyric to describe a line of text in song, rap, or poetry, the word refers to “expressing the writer’s emotions, usually briefly” according to the dictionary definition. In this generative all-genre workshop, we will write about the emotions that arise from experiencing and witnessing racism, in and outside of ourselves, on the street, in our workplaces and schools, on TV and online. Looking to the work of Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde and Claudia Rankine, participants will do a few writing exercises to explore the use of image, metaphor, and point of view as ways to translate the emotions of our experiences into expressions of justice. —- N. Agabian
For more information and to register for Hobart Festival of Women Writers 2019 and to register for Nancy’s workshop, please visit https://www.hobartfestivalofwomenwriters.com/.
In 2012, Nancy Agabian founded a series of community-based creative writing workshops, focusing on social issues as well as the craft of writing. Courses are held online and in Jackson Heights, Queens. More info: Heightening Stories workshop For more on Nancy Agabian, please visit http://nancyagabian.com/.
For more on Stephanie Nikolopoulos, go to Stephanie Nikolopoulos.com
for more about all of our Participating Writers, go to Spotlights