The latest catch-up chat with a past Structo author is with Rosebud Ben-Oni, a writer and poet based in New York. Ben-Oni’s short story ‘Never My Story, My Name is Yours’ first appeared in issue seven, and can be read here.
What is your writing background?
Well, I attended New York University for my BA in Literature, and the University of Michigan for my MFA, but outside workshops, a hodgepodge of influences. Shel Silverstein and the Torah. Americo Paredes, corridos, South Padre Island, the U.S.-Mexican border. Yaakov Shabtai’s Past Continuous. Edmond Jabes’s The Book of Questions. The particular chill of a synagogue on Yom Kippur morning, the lamplights low, trying to fast alongside my father. I don’t remember writing my first poem; I only remember I was always writing. I wrote because I was filled with endless why. I wrote because I was small for my age, and wanted to make I would have a place in the world later. My childhood worlds were very physical spaces that often resembled the stories I read in Hebrew school. After I read the story of Abel & Cain, I felt a great sympathy for Cain, which horrified some of the class and our teacher. I felt when called upon to offer a sacrifice, he was actually speaking a greater faith in his rebelliousness that Abel, who simply did what he was told. I only remember I was always writing because of rebelliousness, because I wanted to reinterpret the stories of the Torah, because we had to change synagogues because some of the congregation didn’t like that my mother was Mexican and had converted from Catholicism to marry my observant Jewish father, because I wanted the world to understand what my own father had sacrificed in order to honour my mother and his children. My writing background began in the worlds my parents had to create to raise their children who were never completely of the worlds around them, even those of their blood. My writing background is alkali-ed seasons surging along the Gulf coast, wandering wreckage tossed over from the cities I’ve lived, the winding roads of Jerusalem, some distant future always in the setting sun, no filter, no filter.
What was the genesis of ‘Never My Story, My Name is Yours’?
I had dated a Bukharan Jew; she was religious, and could not come out to her family,so while the romantic relationship didn’t progress, we became friends. I would have Shabbat dinner with her family about twice a month, and I’d watch the volatile dynamic between her grandfather and her father, who had never seen eye-to-eye. The story is completely fiction, but it grew from this experience.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m finishing up my next poetry collection which is called BLOODSPORT, as well as my first novel and my first full length play. I’m also working on a collaboration with the artist Michael Haffkha on the idea of anthropophagi. All of these projects vibe together, so I don’t have an issue with having to hit a mental ‘reset’ to transition from one to another.
Can you say a little about VIDA [the US organisation dedicated to issues of women and writing]? We first heard about their work from you.
I did read your piece here, which was excellent. I’ve worked more with editorial content, but as you saw in your own count in Structo, numbers can’t lie. I believe by pushing more for women writers and writers of colour we can reshape what is US literature and what is the canon, and that of course informs culture. One point I always make to make my students in workshop is that the US is a very young country, and our canon is still evolving. Groups like VIDA, as well as Cave Canem, CantoMundo and Kundiman, are so vital to giving us a more fulfilling and realistic portrait of literary voices and cultural experience in the US.