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Chaos Questions with Leah Hampton photo

I was in love with Leah Hampton's words before I read anything beyond the title of her short story collection. F*uckface and Other Stories. Yes, please. And she has my Appalachian heart, too. But beyond all that are her words. Once I stopped admiring the title and got into the stories I saw that Leah was not to be messed with. She spun sentences like spells and brought characters not only into the light but into a light no one else had ever so much as found in the caverns of narrative. 

Leah writes about Appalachia, corpses, ecoanxiety, and smart women. She currently serves as the Environmental Humanities and Creative Writing Fellow in Residence at the University of Idaho’s Confluence Lab. Her debut collection, F*ckface and Other Stories, was released by Henry Holt and was named one of the best books of 2020 by The Paris Review, the New York Public Library, and Slate. A graduate of the Michener Center for Writers, she has been awarded multiple prizes and fellowships and held residencies at the Stadler Center for Poetry, the Folger Shakespeare Library, Hedgebrook, Jentel, and elsewhere. Her work has appeared in places like EcotoneGuernicaMcSweeneys Quarterly ConcernElectric LiteraturestorySouth, and LitHub. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains and in Moscow, Idaho.

SHELDON LEE COMPTON: Dinosaurs never became extinct. Instead, we are made to choose which ones we will hunt at age 10. Which dinosaur will be your pre-adolescent prey?

LEAH HAMPTON: I gotta go T-Rex. If you’d made me decide this at age 10, I would probably have said something easy and slow like a triceratops, but where’s the challenge in that? Kids don’t know anything. And let’s face it; people suck, so I’m not going to add to the suckage by going around destroying ecosystems and killing gentle giants like triceratops and brachiosaurs just to fulfill a stupid rite of passage. But if I must, I’ll go for the big guy; Tyrannosaurus Rex all the way. I feel like I could handle it. I’m Gen X, so I’m not afraid of big-talking predators with wussy little arms; I already fought off a bunch of those working in academia.

SLC: The sky’s blue only because we all agree it’s blue. Tomorrow you are given the task of recoloring the sky. What color will you choose?

LH: I recently left my hometown in Appalachia and moved to the Pacific Northwest. The sky is not blue anymore. The sky is grey. It rains constantly and the sky looks like putty, unless there are wildfires, in which case the sky is still putty grey but in a scary way. Also there are no possums here and the sun sets at 3pm so I don’t go outside anymore except to visit one of the sketchy coffee huts on the side of the road. Help.

SLC: You’ve written a novel that you are 100 percent sure is the greatest novel ever imagined by human kind, but you’ve discovered everyone has forgotten how to read. Write a paragraph detailing your reaction.

LH: This is actually my current situation. The novel I’m working on right now is so much fun, Sheldon. I love it so much, and it’s so weird, and I’m convinced nobody will understand it or like it because it’s bizarre and full of Shakespeare references and talking turtles who reincarnate as granny witches. My reaction to having produced something so juicy and off the wall is that I am painting my bathroom and not sending the latest draft of the book to my agent. I picked out a really good color for the bathroom. People can handle sage green with white trim. They cannot handle dismembered fingers and bowls of live bees at a (fictional) West Virginia salad bar. I’m just going to hold onto the manuscript for a little while longer, if that’s OK.

SLC: You were born with a third ear that only appears when it is most needed. How the hell does this thing work?

LH: As a person who is currently struggling with hearing loss, I have to say I desperately wish this was real. Covid was a wake up call for me. Everyone is masked and I can’t hear what people are saying, and I can’t ask them to take the mask off, because then we all get sick. I had no idea until 2020 that I was basically reading lips for the last few years. The Covid era threw me into this weird, disconcerting, mumblecore universe where I had to learn to have a whole new relationship with silence. Anyway, I’m using my third ear to snoop on my students. I want to know whether they really did the reading.

SLC: The aliens actually showed up. They only communicate through images and demand you show them one overall image that explains our civilization. You have five minutes to Google Image search. What do you type into the search bar?

LH: “Image of Donald Trump shitting on an endangered butterfly”

SLC: Pick a book you haven’t read. You’re expected to write a one-paragraph review of that book tomorrow. Let’s see that bullshit review.

LH:  Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace is indeed infinite (in that it is nine thousand pages long), and it is indeed a jest, except the author doesn’t appear to be in on the joke. To be fair, it is funny to think that anyone like me would read this hacky nonsense. After ten pages my eyes started bleeding. Three pages later I developed an allergy to sideburns and the word “bro.” By the thirtieth page I gave up because I was being chased down the street by fifty dudes with names like Travis and Holden who kept screaming you just don’t understand true genius and now I’m hiding out in an abandoned train car on the edge of town. Jeanette Winterson came by and taught me some hobo code signs, so I think I’m going to make it. The end.

SLC: It’s Halloween but instead of dressing up in scary costumes, the tradition has changed. Now people dress up in sad costumes. What do you pick for yourself?

LH: I don’t dress up for Halloween. I don’t go out. Halloween makes me incredibly self conscious. I stay home and eat the candy I’m supposed to give to children. Are my pyjamas sad? Is it sad that I’ve got a jolly rancher stuck in my hair? I don’t care. Leave me alone.

SLC: You’ve been hired to develop the latest reality show. You have complete creative control, but there’s one stipulation. The studio demands that Gordon Ramsey be in every episode of the show, even though it has nothing to do with cooking. Tell me about your big reality show idea.

LH: Obviously my reality show is called Let’s Fuck With Gordon Ramsay. The entire premise is based around humiliating him. Contestants win prizes by shaming various TV chefs into shutting the hell up. TV chefs are a scourge on humanity. There are only two good TV chefs in the history of the genre: Jacques Pepin and Anthony Bourdain. Jacques Pepin was a high-class French cuisine master who gave up his restaurant to write menus for Howard Johnson’s, and then he went on PBS in the 1980s to show kids like me how to make fried bologna sandwiches. He was like the Mr. Rogers of food. Anthony Bourdain never cooked for us, which is why he was the greatest TV chef. He was also a better writer than pretty much anyone. The rest of them can pound sand. If you agree with me, join us next time on Let’s Fuck With Gordon Ramsay, when we shave Emeril Legassi’s head and make him read Amazon reviews of his crappy cookware!

SLC: There’s a new rule. Every American must have a minimum of ten animals in their house at all times and only one cat and one dog are allowed in the mix. How do you stock your zoo?

LH: Easy: I’m adopting two giant parrots whose owners have died, because most parrots live for like 80 years. Also three snakes (preferably red tail boas), that one surprised guinea pig from the internet meme, a donkey, and a baby raccoon named Steve. You have to give raccoons human names. Because of their little bitty hands.

SLC: You’ve been asked to write the definitive history of rock and roll in one tweet as part of the Condensing American History for the Tech Generation (CAHTG) educational initiative. Let’s see it.

LH: (120 characters) We stole everything from Black people and now y’all think Taylor Swift is “deep.” I’m never leaving this abandoned train car. Hobo Hampton out.