When I was a younger man in my early 20s slumming about Watauga County in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina living off of sacks of potatoes, Top Ramen, and 50 cent day-old bread from Jimmy John's in the midst of a youthful exploration of self-discovery, my primary means of spiritual sustenance being $2 40 oz bottles of malt liquor, my relationships with scoundrels, endearing friends, an abundance of hedonism, a lack of responsibility, a poor boy’s decadence, bright-eyed women, and Kamel Red cigarettes, Elizabeth Ellen was the first literary publisher to accept any work that I’d submitted. This was circa 2014. Felt that she was the Hackmuth to my Great Bandini. And almost immediately, she and I fell into an incessant correspondence, as we both intrigued the other, and over the years it has been a correspondence that has sustained and continued up until today. And now, still a young man, but in his early 30s, nearly a decade out from those initial published pieces for Hobart, I find myself far away from those mountains, existing in a land known for its Great Lakes, and is a place infamous for the birth of soul music and techno; a place infamous for its pioneers in the auto industry and union busting. And Elizabeth Ellen has never been too far away--her being a Midwestern girl and all.
So, after all of the Hobart editors quit the journal back in October, and she asked me to join her new roster of staff, I thought it best that if Hobart was going to make a 2023 comeback after a brief hiatus, that maybe I could sit down with her to conduct an interview for the publication, and that it would be my first contribution to the new reign.
It’s not uncommon for Elizabeth Ellen and I, whenever we hang out, to convene and converse over a meal. In fact, that’s almost always how it goes down. So, this interview, I thought, shouldn’t be any different--though it’s more of a conversation than a standard Q & A.
On December 28, 2022 we went to a Yemeni restaurant of my choosing. I wanted to order a lot of food because I had a feeling we’d be there for a while catching up. It was an hour past noon and the restaurant was barely inhabited with any other patrons. We chose a booth in the back, the furthest from the front, and sat down to chop it up.
I began simply.
I said: “Where should we start with the interview?”
And she said: “I don’t know...what did you want to know?”
And I responded that I wanted to know “Everything!”
“Are we talking about The interview or are we talking about just a general interview? Do you know what I mean? ‘The’ interview that was like, ‘problematic’ two months ago?”
Elizabeth Ellen had conducted an interview in September of '22 for Hobart with writer, Alex Perez, and the shock and outrage--on the behalf of the editors at the time--that seemingly followed the interview’s online publication lead to Hobart’s editorial staff publicly resigning from the literary journal, which brought more attention to the matter than was there, inviting in discourse for online commentary and a few online publications to question and condemn the content of the interview and its participants. The original interview can be found here.
But one of my favorite responses from that interview--and there were many really poignant and elegantly written perspectives in a lot Perez’s answers to ee’s questions--is one that I chose to include below, mainly because I think it represents the general flavor that bothered people the most.
After Perez was essentially asked about what is, and what isn’t, acceptable in art within the literary community and whether or not he found there to be a one sided representation in the literature world, he responded with this:
My take is the only take and the one everyone knows to be true but only admits in private: the literary world only accepts work that aligns with the progressive/woke point of view of rich coastal liberals. This is a mindset that views “whiteness” and America as inherently problematic, if not evil, and this sensibility animates every decision made by publishers/editors/agents. White people bad. Brown people good. America bad. Men bad. White women, I think, bad…unless they don a pussy hat. This explains why nearly every book is about some rich fuck from Brooklyn confronting his white guilt or some poor black girl who’s been fighting “whiteness” and “patriarchy” all her life. All this stuff is ideologically-driven horseshit propagated by some of the most artless people on the planet. We know who they are.
Here it goes: 80% of agents/editors/publishers are white women from a certain background and sensibility; these woke ladies run the industry. And contrary to popular belief, I don’t hate the Brooklyn ladies. On the contrary, I respect how these passive aggressive prude ladies took over an industry. Tip of the hat, Brooklyn ladies.
Everyone knows these ladies took over, of course. Everyone querying agents knows this. Everyone dealing with a publicist knows this. If you follow one on Twitter, you follow them all. Every white girl from some liberal arts school wants the same kind of books…I’m interested in BIPOC voices and marginalized communities and white men are evil and all brown people are lovely and beautiful and America is awful and I voted for Hillary and shoved my head into a tote bag and cried cried cried when she lost…
These women, perhaps the least diverse collection of people on the planet, decide who is worthy or unworthy of literary representation. Their worldview trickles down to the small journals, too, which are mostly run by woke young women or bored middle-aged housewives. This explains why everything reads and sounds the same, from major publishing houses to vanity zines with a readership of fifteen. The progressive/woke orthodoxy is the ideology that controls the entire publishing apparatus.
You’ll never read a story about a pro-lifer or someone unvaccinated, as you said, because the woke commissars don’t consider them worthy of being humanized or represented in literature. Let’s be honest: these types of people, especially if they’re white working class, are looked at as repugnant by woke progressives. The fact that we’re even talking about pro-lifers and the unvaccinated in a literary magazine and treating them with respect is damn near revolutionary. I’m sure some readers are disgusted and enraged right now that we’re not damning our fellow Americans.
A tiny glimpse into his perspective from the interview. This, and an array of other thoughts, opinions, life experiences, and what could be considered “hot takes," plus the overall general candor contained within the piece is what lead to the mass exodus of Hobart’s editorial staff, along with the stepping down of Hobart’s original founder, co-owner, and previous husband to Elizabeth Ellen, Aaron Burch.
Five of the resigning editors got together and penned an open letter to the internet disavowing themselves from association with the journal, the interview in question, and Elizabeth Ellen herself. The original open letter was published on Hobart but has since been deleted. This is a fragment of what I was able to find online:
The publication of Alex Perez's interview reflects a continued pattern of behavior on the part of a single editor, Elizabeth Ellen, to prioritize attention driven by outrage rather than forwarding innovative work that adds new perspectives to Hobart and the literary community.
The second issue is this: all staff editors at Hobart have the same publication privileges on the back end of the website. This allowed for flexible work schedules and reduced hierarchy, but it also relied on everyone acting responsibly. We all had the technical power to publish whatever we wanted with impunity; the success of Hobart as a group project required all editors to act with good faith and with the knowledge that our actions would reflect on everyone else.
The content that started all this was regressive, harmful, and also just boring writing. The misogyny and white supremacy were treated with empathetic engagement, and that sucked beyond measure. All this led to attention being taken from the work we are proud to have published, much of it by the very writers Perez denigrated in his interview.
So, as we sit in our booth and Elizabeth Ellen brings up her interview with Perez, I ask her what she thought was problematic about it.
“Did you read all of the ‘boring’ 10,000 words that everybody complained about?”
"I think I read the majority of it...Just to see what the hype was about.”
“To find all the white supremacy and misogyny?”
“Yeah. Yeah, which I didn’t...see. I don’t know. It’s like, maybe if it was not in print and it was audio, or video, people could hear the inflection because it seemed like, really sarcastic.”
“Yeah, the racist inflection would be in there if it was white supremacy,” she quietly laughs to herself.
“And also...he wasn’t white. Right?”
It’s at this time that our cups of lentil soup that we ordered arrive in the hands of our waitress.
“Yeah, Alex is Cuban-American--” she continued.
“Yeah, why did you interview him? Because I had never heard of him before.”
“I hadn’t heard of him until I...I started seeing his tweets on twitter. His tweets just seemed not the cliche, normal shit I was seeing. I don’t know, they were more interesting, like the shit he was saying was a little bit off center for the literary world. And then we emailed a few times about stuff you’re not supposed to talk about in the literary world publicly that everybody talks about privately.”
“Just all the stuff that you and I talk about...Just...everything. Like how certain people can talk about things and other people can’t. Like supposedly because he’s a person of color he can talk about certain things, but now he can’t because it looks like he might be a republican, so therefore he’s discounted as a Person Of Color. And...just, y’know...how the culture is right now about identity shit.”
“To me the interview was really funny because of the dialogue between the reaction and the content. It was pretty much everything he was saying in the interview. The reaction mirrored everything he was talking about.”
"Was kind of proving his point--”
“Yeah, kind of proving his point and I was like, This is hilarious, because this is exactly what he’s talking about. And to me it’s also funny because that’s how me and my friends candidly talk about shit.”
“Why is there such a big difference between how we all talk when it’s just our friends and how you present online or social media? I think the reason it came across in a way that people got so scared like, Oh my god, is this racist? Is this misogynistic? was because we were just talking about stuff in such a candid way that...When you take stuff out of context and people want to look for negative shit like that, you can probably try and take people’s words and make them a negative thing. But we were just trying to go to all the complex areas that you can’t go when you’re on that kind of--”
“Why do you think that is? That you can’t do it? Can’t go there?”
“Because people want to find shit and be an asshole and be like, You’re being a racist, because you’re talking about race or, You’re being misogynistic, because you’re talking about women.”
It’s at this time that our salad arrives and our boiling vat of fava bean dip, foul. (pronounced: fool)
We thank the waitress. And as she sets down the food before us on the table, she addresses me through her muffling Covid mask, asking if I had been to the restaurant before.
“So, you know foul? Good, so you know what this is.”
“You can tell I’ve never been here,” Elizabeth Ellen adds jokingly.
“I’ve been here three months and you don’t seem like a familiar face. But I know I’ve seen you here, right?” Meaning me.
“I don’t know. You have a mask on.”
“But I’m the only girl who works here.”
“I’ve seen other girls that work here. Did you have those frilly pens? Was that you?”
“No, that’s not me. Wait, no. Yeah, yeah that’s me! I knew you looked familiar, I know my customers.”
I ask her name. She tells me. I tell her mine. She says she’ll forget, but will remember my face. We thank her and continue talking as we begin eating. She takes this as a cue to leave us be.
"She’s not gonna forget.”
“Is she like, into you? Is she gonna ask you out?”
"This is really good lentil soup.”
“I know. The best.
“I really liked the pickle soup that we got at the other place?”
“Oh, yeah. Um, Polish Village?”
I jump back into the conversation.
“So, you’re not allowed to talk about pretty much anything, right?”
“Because people are addicted to getting outraged, yelling on the internet to people, and not trying to give people the benefit of the doubt as to why you’re discussing things.”
“The irony behind that shit is that those same generally outraged white people, often white women--”
“Well, and the white men who were the Hobart editors, I think are so terrified--I mean obviously nobody wants to be associated with any negative thing like that--but they are so terrified of it because they’re a white man in the literary world and are in this culture, so any hint of just talking about anything openly, they’re just like, Oh my god, I just have to immediately distance myself.”
"And that’s what you think Aaron did? Because you said he didn’t even read it?” (Referring to the interview that made him resign from Hobart entirely.)
“Well, I think that’s what the editors did. And then Aaron, well I mean, he’s not like, I’m so scared, I’m hysterical. He’s not like that. He’s just like, I don’t want to be apart of any controversy in any way. I feel like he and I get along better post-this-whole-thing happening than we were before it happened. But probably people think we hate each other, or that he hates me. It’s just like, so stupid. But I don’t think that Alex and I were talking about anything different than we would if we were just in a diner like this. But why do you think that the white people get so...Is it something like the theory I was just saying about white men?”
“I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that people can’t have those kinds of conversations for themselves in general. It’s usually echo chamber bullshit. If you’re not saying exactly what the script is, then they malfunction. But people like this can talk mad shit with the same amount of fervor towards their opposing side. Like, if they were to say, Republicans do XY&Z or Conservatives do XY&Z or Trump supporters do XYZ with the same sort of sarcastic mocking or just calling it how they see it, as Alex was doing in your interview, because he was just speaking from his own experience...Well, they can do that with impunity. And amongst their tribe, this is completely acceptable and it’s a self-righteousness that is toxic.”
“That’s why I was comparing it to the '90s with the Christian-Right and how we all disliked them because they were always like, We don’t want all of this obscenity, and this and that. We’ll put stickers on music to warn people, and I feel like the hate-speech now is like the obscenity then. Like, We have to warn everybody against it, and it’s going to hurt our children. I mean there are so many issues and I think a lack of a sense of humor too...Like not being able to have any kind of levity because everything is so dramatic. Either it has to be hate-speech, because it can’t be a joke.”
Our big Yemeni bread arrives.
Elizabeth Ellen asks for napkins and I ask for garlic spread.
“So, now that you have Hobart...Well, how do you feel about inheriting this publication?”
“Like everything, I had mixed emotions. At first I was like, I don’t wanna do this. This takes too much time, because I’d seen how much time Aaron put into it and I’m like, I’m tryna write a memoir and write this other stuff, (and you can take out all the ‘likes’ by the way) but it was so much better when Aaron was running it and I could just lazily use it when I needed to put something up here and there. But I didn’t even know who the editors were when this all went down because I never paid any attention and he just handled all that stuff. And that’s another thing that everybody’s so...Nobody understands why I was ‘still on there.’ Did you read the letter from the editors? I’d only read it recently in the last couple days and its so stupid.”
“Why’s it stupid?”
“First of all, it doesn’t sound like Hobart at all. Hobart, which is what me and Aaron, not any of these idiots that came on at the end, have been doing for almost 20 years. He did it for a year, and then we did it all those other years. That letter sounded like the worst parody of--people always say 1984 or Brave New World--like some kind of bullshit, like someone told them to speak in this non-human language, or something robotic. It just doesn’t represent Hobart because Hobart has always been--I mean nothing’s not political--but as not political as we could be. Aaron always said he had no interest in that. I had no interest in that. We just wanted to have fun and put up art we liked and writing we liked, and they made it sound like it was socialist, or that they were equal to me or Aaron, and it’s like, Sorry, no. Aaron started it. I helped him for 20 years and we’re in charge. You guys were brought on to do whatever. But they acted like they should have the power to cancel me or get me out of Hobart and its like, Who the fuck are you? I don’t even know who you are. I don’t know your names. How long have you been working here? Like, a year? Two years?
So, that’s it. It was like their language, like who are they to act like they knew how Hobart was run? It wasn’t even accurate what they described. As if it was one of those journals where everyone sits around at a meeting and decides, like everybody has to like something or else it doesn’t go in the journal. That’s exactly the opposite of what me and Aaron always wanted to do. It wasn’t a corporate thing, where everybody has to agree on the art because then you get the blandest, most boring art. Which, maybe it was becoming. But I wasn’t really paying attention. As if this shit has to be morally qualified or the undercurrent has to be the ‘right’ message. Anyway, I forget your original question.”
“How’d it feel to inherit the thing?”
“Oh. Yeah. I didn’t wanna do it. I felt guilty, of course. Like someone emailed me like, Is this some chess game you’ve been playing? as if I was thinking all these steps ahead so that I could take over Hobart,” amused. “Anyway, at some point I was thinking that I had to do it. Couldn’t let the haters win. Plus, I do love Hobart. And I think its a good opportunity to have a literary journal that’s not just like every other literary journal, which is what I just described where all of the people get together to decide if they like something and it has to have the morality that matches the current blah blah blah. What do you think?”
“What do I think about what?”
“Hobart moving forward. Like, why did you come on, or agree to be an editor?”
“Oh. I didn’t want to.”
Mockingly she laughs. ”I told you you had to.”
"You told me I had to.”
“I didn’t say you had to. I said you could do as minimal as you want. And I trust you’re aesthetic and your choices. And that you’re not going to be an asshole or a moralist when it comes to art.”
“Which is cool. I was just talking to Craigen recently, and all I want to publish at this point is just good film reviews because after we see any movie, we just start unpacking the movie for like 2 hours. And going back to what we were saying about the interview that you published, or just how people consume art in general these days, it’s always so flat, so surface level, and its almost too easy. If the movie offends people, then it’s just offensive. If there’s something problematic in the movie, then the whole thing is problematic and bad. I mean, this is a movie that’s complex, and nuanced or whatever, and ultimately its a storytelling device to empathize with people. Even if there’s a movie about a Trump supporter that can make you empathetic towards that person, people would so quickly just say: Fuck this movie!”
“But every single human alive should have some kind of empathy because I remember when that guy shot up that movie theater and my mom said: ‘He’s evil.’ And I said: ‘I don’t really believe in evil. He probably has a really bad mental illness that’s horribly tragic.’ But I just don’t believe in good and evil. But I wanted to go back to your thing of talking about cinema in a complex way, and I was thinking when writing my comedy thing about...I was thinking about smoking, and how when they took smoking out of restaurants and diners like this, and is it coincidence that we no longer have complex philosophical conversations? I mean, it’s just a joke, kinda, but also not, because you could linger and really have long conversations with your friends. And--”
“And now you have to get up and leave the building to smoke. “
A loud fire alarm ring tone goes off at a nearby table. Elizabeth Ellen asks what the sound was. I tell her its a phone. She shrugs and continues her point.
“Yeah, you have to leave the building like a leper so everyone can be so healthy. But obviously things like social media and stuff just reduces everything to a sentence and whatever gets the most views. Who’s going to care about a tweet that’s not sensational?”
“Well, that’s not what people are going to it for. Which, is why I don’t use it. Anywho, I would love to get down to film reviews of movies that we fuck with because every time a movie comes out that we like, sometimes we’ll go and see what the temperature is out there and a lot of the time we never see anything that we’re talking about in the film, like true film analysis ever depicted online or in these articles. It’s always these really shallow interpretations of the content. Usually outside of the context.”
“That’s what it is: shallow. Well, that’s what reducing everybody...well, I don’t want to keep saying identity politics, but identity is a really shallow way to do anything because you’re never really getting to the person, you’re just stopping at whatever they represent to you. Like: woman, or Asian, or whatever...gay.”
We digressed. And then she asks me:
“So, what do you think as far as your own writing and your own art? Do you have any aspirations of dealing with any of these literary agents or a ‘bigger publisher?’ What is your own journey, or whatever, or what you see for your own goal? Like, what you see for your art?”
I’m assuming she’s referring to the novel that I’m writing. My first.
“I just want to finish the work that I’m doing and go from there because that’s all that I really care about at this point. There’s almost no point of looking too far ahead of what to do with the book when I haven’t even finished the book. I want to have the project done before thinking about what to do with it.”
“Well, a lot of people would already be like, I want it to have this middle-level publisher or I want a big publisher or I don’t care about the size of the publisher. Like, they have very specific ideas for what, to them, it would be. Oh, I succeeded in my goal for my book. Which is where, all of these people that say they hate capitalism seem like hypocrites to me because if they feel like their book isn’t finishing its goal unless it’s a certain level of publishing, then it’s all about the money. I guess, I mean, it’s about their own visibility in the community, or whatever. So, I guess, a pure artist, or whatever, wouldn’t care about those things.”
“Well, with your publication house, how many books do you print per edition?”
“Depends on the person and whether or not they have a ‘big,’ or at least in the indie world, following. I think I used to print too much, so now I’m trying to be better. I think I was better at knowing Garielle [Lutz] and Elle’s [Nash] because I’m almost out of both of those books right now. Anyways, I would say one to three thousand copies for an initial print run.”
“To me, that’s more than enough because I would love to tour the book like a band, because that’s all I know. Just go city to city setting up events, or whatever, and selling the book like that.”
“And so when you go and do a reading from it would it not be at a book store? More like at a venue or something? A house reading?”
“I don’t know. It would be cool to do that. A part of me thinks it would almost be more interesting to not even have it be a reading. Just book music and then just have the book there also. Or to book some other shit and have the book there also.”
“I was thinking, I can’t remember, I think it was Loretta Lynn. I think her husband and her drove around the country when they had her first record. And they went personally to radio stations, and record stores and met people in person and tried to get her music on that way. I always thought to be able...I don’t know to drive around the country and try to get your book to people in some way on a personal level.”
“I feel that in the age of the internet everyone just dumps their shit into the abyss in hopes that it will echo back to them somehow and I don’t have any faith in that because when I finish the book, it will have been a lot of fucking time writing this shit, so there’s no fucking way I’m just going to put it online and hope for the best. I do want to have a conversation with people. That’s the point of writing the book. Communication between people. Proposing ideas within the book and prompting discussion. That’s kinda the point of the book. That’s the point of all art. It’s that exchange of ideas.”
“That’s such an old fashioned ‘90s way to look at it. I was talking to [two writers who shall remain nameless] recently that had books that came out in the last couple months and both were disappointed. They said something, and I don’t know how to articulate it, but it was something about how compared to their last books there wasn’t as many places to do interviews or have any kind of talk about the book. Everything was kinda falling flat. They put all this work and themselves into this book, their art, and then it’s out, and then nothing. They couldn’t really put their finger on what it was, just that there was way less conversation about books in general.”
“I mean, it kind of is just an old fucking medium. Like, it’s kind of dying, in a weird way. It’s like writing books is almost insane.”
“But I still see a lot of people, non-writers, talking about books, and book clubs. Honestly it’s a lot of white women in these book clubs.”
“People have TV.”
“And movies. Binging Netflix and shit.”
“TikTok videos. How do you get your literature on TikTok videos? Some writer said she was getting on TikTok to promote her book and I was like, How does that even happen? And what do you even do?”
I find that to be insane. “She’s a psycho. Because who are you even talking to? Like, if TikTok was a real place, why would I walk into that establishment? I mean, there would mostly be just like, 12 year olds in there. That’s some thirsty ass shit.”
“Well, this is a person that I’m not really friends with anymore. It’s the same person that wouldn’t, in any way, shape, or form, stand by me when shit hit the fan, so maybe that kind tells you about their integrity, though now I’m sounding like a moralist.”
“The same person who wants to hock their book on TikTok won’t stand next to you when you need them? Sounds about right.”
Elizabeth Ellen now turns the table and tries to interview me.
“Alright, so here’s a complex question: Talking about things swinging from one extreme to the other, when talking about white literary agents and white publishers seeking out People Of Color to represent, or trans people, or whatever it is, obviously the benefit to this is that those voices in the past weren’t as easily out there and seen and giving visibility, so that is a plus. But it does feel like a weird capitalist using sometimes of those voices. Like, I don’t know. This is why people don’t talk about this because...I don’t know.”
“What are you trying to say? Like representation politics?”
“I guess like what Alex was saying to me about how they want, in his opinion, that they want a story from a Person Of Color but a very specific one. Like, he was saying if he wrote about his guys that he grew up with, almost like the Mean Streets of Cuban-American Miami, that’s not what they want. They want the overcoming obstacles, victim thing.”
“To me, that’s just another form of tokenism or affirmative action where they make it okay for you to come into the house but you have to look a certain way, talk a certain way, dress a certain way and you have to have the correct opinions. A lot of it is annoying. I don’t like the Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Industrial Complex. It just feels like using people for their identity, which doesn’t necessarily lead to the promoting of good work. So, to me, the work should always come first. And as far as it feeling capitalistic, or whatever, well it’s all capitalism.”
“Yeah, well that’s another thing because this whole anti-capitalism bullshit just annoys me to no end.”
“A friend was saying some shit to me about how the anti-capitalist shit actually just proves, reinforces, and literally feeds right back into capitalism itself. Like how are you going to be talking about anti-capitalism on Instagram? People want to be radical on Mark Zuckerberg’s platform? One of the biggest technocrats in the technocracy. Him. Musk. He owns Instagram and Facebook. Musk owns Twitter. Like, what are these people talking about? If you want to actually have conversations with people you have to get off these platforms because it becomes redundant to preach and promote radical speech on platforms that are like the most capitalistic shit and are so algorithmic that they’re taking your actual information. They’re like bloodletting right into the system.”
We digressed. I tell her a recent account about a guy that ran up on me at the bar.
“Anywho, the other day this man started going in to me about artificial intelligence writing. And he was like, If you don’t start looking into this now, you’re going to have a lot of competition later. He said a lot of people are writing books with AI where they take their 100 page draft and feed it into the AI and the program will take that and finish and complete the story for you. And I told him I would never do that because that’s not writing. That’s something else. It’s cheating, or something. He disagreed and said you can’t tell the difference. So, how do you feel about an AI creatively writing fiction?
“Yeah. Would you ever do it?”
“No. That just seems so dumb. I would never even think about it. That just seems crazy. Who does that?”
“It goes back into the capitalist shit because his main point was that you can sell these books and produce them quickly. Why the fuck would I want to mass produce artificially intelligent books? Who would read them? What are they even about?”
“Well, even just normal books that are being published, or people when they’re just starting out, I notice that their first book will be really interesting because their goal at that point is about having their own voice and to have their art and they’re usually not trying to get a big book deal, and there are certain writers that I kinda see like that, so their first book is really interesting and you’re super into their writing and then book two and three gets less and less interesting because they’re trying more and more to push their art into something more broad that will make money. So, that’s the other interesting part that’s separate from the whole identity politics and that whole thing going into publishing right now, but that’s prolly been an age old question of how, and when, you’re working on your writing or art, you’re thinking already of this goal and so you’re shaping it in this different way than you would’ve if money wasn’t a thing. Because you always hear, I don’t care if two people or two hundred people or two billion people read my shit.”
“I don’t care who you are, everyone’s thought about the idea of a large audience, or wants that because that’s the whole funny thing about the idea of art vs capitalism: everyone wants to live off of their work. You can’t do that if you want to be anti-capitalist.”
“The person I know who is like, the ‘purest’ artist that I know is Garielle Lutz because she worked at a community college--she’s retired now--but she’s never had an agent, she won’t take an advance, she’ll barely take any money at all...Like most people would think if they got a book with a big enough publisher then they could get a job at NYU and that’ll bring more money and more exposure, y’know, like people are always trying to climb this ladder of what we’re told is the ladder and she’s very content seeming to me because she’s freer artistically ‘down here’ at the bottom of the ladder. You’re giving something up if you want that sort of aspiration.”
“You think? I think it’s possible not to, but I think that people often do.”
“I think if she’d chased being at NYU, or Columbia, as far as teaching, and then got more money and a bigger book deal and whatever, money and all that stuff...she wouldn’t be writing the books that she’s writing and have that.”
“I think the truest artist, or whatever, is trying to do what their mission is. And it has nothing really to do with the amenities that can come with it. If it comes down to getting a new job, or getting more money, being able to take care of your family, then great. But ultimately, it doesn’t really matter because the point is your purpose, or whatever. Your mission. Which is different for each writer, but I think, to me, the purpose of the writer is to hold the mirror up and truly shake shit up, fuck it up for the greater good. The artist in general. That’s the point. So, to only commodify art is boring to me because if its only there for money and not to stimulate the human experience outside of the minor dopamine rush of getting the thing, then it’s bullshit. But then you have something like film, and there’s a lot of money in film, but doesn’t mean good, meaningful films aren’t being made. So, I feel like getting money and shit doesn’t have to necessarily get in the way of being a true artist or not. Getting more access to resources can always be helpful and beneficial. So, with that being said, what does it mean to you to be a writer? What does it mean for you or to you?”
“What does it mean?”
"Why do you do it?”
“Sanity,” she laughs.
“Do you feel like it’s your purpose?”
“Ultimately, I just think we all die. Human’s will be extinct soon and it won’t matter. So, I don’t think there’s any real purpose. But it is what I enjoy doing and what does help keep me sane. I just find it an interesting challenge because you’re talking to your reader and also yourself. Like, figuring yourself out on the page. You’re always going to be working to do that in a better way, or to get your meaning across better or more artistically.”
“Have you ever been to therapy? Because some people say that going to therapy can kill your artistic creative spirit.”
She laughs again. “Yeah. I don’t go to therapy. I went to one lady for like, four sessions and it seemed like a joke.”
The waitress finally returns to see if we want the check or togo boxes. We ask her to take a photo of us for this piece. She obliges.
“Remember that one time we got kicked out of one of those Coney Island places downtown? Remember that old guy was like, You can’t just sit here and order french fries!”
“Yeah, and I was like, Yeah we can.”
“But, ultimately he was like, No you can’t. But we were there prolly like three hours or something.”
“Yeah. Which, I prefer. If you’re gonna go somewhere and sit down and eat--”
“Especially a diner. That’s what diners are for.”
“That’s one of my favorite past times. It’s like this.”
“What? Sitting in diners?”
“Yeah. Like, get a little booth. Get a little smorgasbord.”
The check comes. I try to get us back on track.
“So, are you going to change the name?”
“No, I’m going to keep it Hobart. Nothing much is changing. I mean, I showed you the new logo.”
"It’s not going to be called, Elizabeth Ellen’s Hobart?”
“Well, I did change the logo like that, just reflecting the Andy Warhol Interview Magazine thing just thinking that was kind of funny/cool. I’m sure people will hate it who hate me and everybody else will find it funny or something. And Aaron might throw up in his mouth a little bit. Well, when you give stuff up that’s what happens. But, yeah. I’m excited."
Togo boxes arrive.
“I feel like every editor I trust. But I told you guys that if anybody has a problem with something that somebody puts up, your choice is to leave, you’re not going to badger people into changing what they take. So, I feel like everyone has freedom to put up whatever they want.”
“That’s very anarchist of you.”
“Yeah, I want it to be like more anarchist. You see that word used like all the time, and I’m like, What are you talking about?”
“I feel like people’s definition of anarchism fluctuate. I think it really is just like a political identity that is the opposite of chaos and more of no external government control. So, not communist, not socialist, not democratic socialist, not democrat/republican, and more about community control. Like self-governing communities."
“That’s probably where you and I are a little overlapping and little...”
“I’m not anarchist. I’m not anything. I’m just Victor.”
“Well, I’m not anything either but if I had to pick something--”
“Yeah. You’re an anarchist.”
Laughing, she doesn’t know how to respond. So, she just says:
"Okay. But I would never be afraid of anything you guys put on Hobart because I’m not afraid of words. Even if it’s a little much, I’m like whatever. I’m not going to have a breakdown because of something I read.”
“Me neither. But that’s because we’re not bitch-made.”
“But that’s the thing that’s so annoying about the time we’re in is that free speech is related to like, republicans, or the 'far-right,' and I think its just anybody who doesn’t want to fear words. And sometimes you’re gonna get some shit when you do that, but you could just fucking ignore the shit. Or engage with it.”
“Or come to an understanding. Like, why not approach something with the intention of understanding it versus dismissing it?”
“At least an attempt. To try to converse with it.”
“It’s like, What is this thing that I disagree with? Why do they feel this way? You don’t have to agree. No one has to be right, because no one ever really is. Because that person could be you. That person could be your parent. That person could be anyone. It’s like, do you understand where they’re coming from? And if so, move on.”
“Well, that was the most disappointing thing about my first cancellation. After it I asked three female ‘feminist’ writers if they would have an open table conversation with me about some of the things in my essay. And none of them would. What kind of culture is that? Where it’s like, No, we don’t want to learn about each other and hear each other out, or have a dialogue. Why would you not? Well, I know why you wouldn’t, because you just don’t want to be associated with me. You don’t want your stuff taken out of context if we start getting into it like you and I are right now. And if you do, you put yourself in a vulnerable place to have people do it to you. It’s disappointing. And so, we’ve still never talked about the things in that essay that were the gray area complexities of those topics.”
“Maybe one day you can because I think it would be interesting to have a round table discussion with a bunch of women getting into that and being able to be open, and vulnerable, and honest about the nuances of that situation. I almost got that girl’s book the other day. I saw it in a bookstore--Sophia Katz? It was like a little chapbook.”
“I wonder because she asked me to take my essay down and that’s why I took it down because she emailed me saying she was trying to be a writer, even though I never named her in the essay, but she hit me and a couple of other people that had referenced that. But I’d always wondered because I’d never seen if she ever continued writing. “
“I think it was an older book from around that time. 2014. ‘15.”
“But, now that I’m thinking of her asking me to take that down, well she was the one that wrote her piece initially. Once you write about something, like I can’t have control about what people say about my writing. So, now that I think about it, it was kind of like not being an adult when asking me to do that.”
“Well, she was like 21. Which makes sense because she wasn’t really an adult.”
“But that’s how you learn!”
“Then you shouldn’t have taken it down.”
“Yeah, I know. But you can still find it. They use that thing. That Wayback thing and you can find stuff that was ever on the internet but taken down. You can find it that way.”
“I’m not doing all that.”
“Well, maybe I’ll put it back up for the new Hobart. Yeah, ‘cuz you can’t open a conversation and then be like, Now I don’t want this conversation to be associated with me--”
There’s an older Polish women in the booth directly behind Elizabeth Ellen, and their backs are to each other. This woman has been violently coughing up flem and mucus for the last 20 minutes with no remorse. Hacking it all up into a napkin, her hand, or just the open air.
We’d had enough.
It was very distracting.
Elizabeth Ellen tries to contain her laugh at how comically awful this woman sounds as she loses her train of thought.
The woman sounds like she’s trying to hock a loogie up from her lungs past her throat.
This is proving to be too much.
It sounds disgusting.
“Alright let’s get out here.”