Writing with Great Humor About the Hard Stuff
"Hysterical" Author and Rumpus "Funny Women" editor Elissa Bassist talks with Sari Botton about "punching up" even traumatic experiences by writing about them through the lens of absurdity.
This is the eighth in a series of behind the scenes video interviews with authors, editors, and others in the field about aspects of publishing personal essays, essay collections, and memoirs.
Previously, I’ve interviewed author Natalie Beach about moving past the viral essay that first brought her to everyone’s attendion, memoirist Pam Mandel about adapting her memoir for the screen; poet Maggie Smith about switching to memoir; author Abigail Thomas about her latest memoir with tiny Golden Notebook Press; Chloe Caldwell about acting as her own agent, Tajja Isen about the limited value of critical acclaim, and publicist Lauren Cerand about aspects of book publicity you can handle yourself.
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As an editor, I’m always excited to receive essays that turn even the most painful personal experiences on their heads and reconsider them through the lens of absurdity. In other words, pieces that are in equal measure sad and funny. Two that stand out for me from my days as the Essays Editor at Longreads (both of which I mention in this episode) are Jabeen Akhtar’s “Why I Lied to Everyone in High School About Knowing Karate,” and Ken Otterbourg’s “Grief is a Jumble Word.”is an absolute master of this kind of writing. I’m always so excited to read anything she writes. (Next week I’ll reprint here an essay of hers that I commissioned and edited in 2019.) I always know that Elissa’s work is going to make me laugh and cry and think and rage, and then laugh and cry all over again.
Her memoir, Hysterical, about speaking out as a woman in a culture that tries to render us voiceless, is no exception. The same goes for her new newsletter,.
On the occasion of Hysterical’s first birthday, I spoke with Elissa about the value of adding humor to even the darkest subjects, how she goes about doing that, teaching others how to do it through a variety of workshops, and how her excellent memoir came to be.
Below is our interview. Hope you enjoy it! - Sari
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