10 Questions With Brittany Leitner
McNally Jackson is one of my favorite book stores in New York. If I’m ever in the area, there’s about a 90% chance you’ll find me there. Whenever I can afford it, I go select a random book of poetry from McNally and treat myself to some words. That’s how I found Brittany Leitner’s book, “23 Emotions.”
It’s one of those books you have to put down after each poem to savor the words for a bit. I found myself thinking on them for a few days. Emotions are so tricky to explain and isn’t that poetry? Recently, I was able to ask the author a few questions about how she nailed the words down on paper.
Mad Girl’s Collective: While doing research for this interview, I found out you grew up in San Antonio! I’m also from Texas! How’d you end up in New York?
Brittany Leitner: OMG I love Texas gals in New York! I used to feel like I had two lives: Texas and post-Texas, because Texas is so overpowering as an identity. I always knew I wanted to be in New York City, so I only applied to colleges in New York state. I just had a strong feeling that things would work out for me, so I figured out financial aid, and just collected the debt with the hopes that I’d make enough money one day to figure it out. I got accepted to the Newhouse school at Syracuse University, and they gave me the most money, so that’s basically all I considered when saying yes. A day after I graduated Syracuse, I threw my suitcases on a bus and came to Brooklyn.
What was the biggest change for you moving here?
Well, I had never owned a coat before going to Syracuse and had never seen snow… Honestly, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, logistic wise. Mentally, I was always ready for it and had no problem adjusting. It was hard seeing kids at school have their parents there to move them into their dorms with a car-full of cute stuff for their dorms, but I knew I was making the right choice when moving so far, so that was my biggest comfort. I learned quickly how financial aid money and budgeting worked.
I’d love to know more about your book! How’d you get the idea for the collection?
My poetry book, “23 Emotions,” is inspired by a popular internet list by the same name. It’s a list of non-English words for very specific emotions that all humans feel, but can’t explain. I got the idea to write poems based on the words, basically as a writing prompt to get me to actually write more poetry. I first started in 2014 and I obviously left it alone for a few years, then last year picked it back up with full steam.
I’ve always been fascinated with words that don’t really translate. In general, words are just so cool to me. What’s your favorite word or emotion?
I really love the word “liberosis” from the list because it sounds like liberate, and it means “the desire to care less about things.” That poem is about me confronting my Mexican identity, and it fit so perfectly into that definition because it was something I never really had to think about growing up, but felt compelled to later on. After the current president called Mexicans rapists to a crowd of cheering people, I knew I couldn’t avoid it anymore.
I found your book at McNally Jackson, but there are a few other bookstores in New York that carry it. How’d you make that happen? Did you use a publisher, agent, etc?
I’m so glad you found it! It’s currently on Amazon and at five bookstores in the city and always changing. I self-published my book, so, for McNally in particular, I had to submit it to the buyer for review. It’s been consistently selling ever since, so I think he and I are both pleasantly surprised by that. Most bookstores have space for independent or local books, you just have to find out what their process is. Since it’s my first book, I didn’t really know where to start, so I just did it myself as a way of shoving it into the universe.
What was the biggest struggle in publishing your book?
The hardest thing about publishing a book is writing it. You really can’t reach out to anyone or try to get feedback or publication unless you have it, tangibly, in your hands to show people. My biggest advice would be to not even think about the publication process until you’re 100 percent done with the manuscript.
Can you give our readers some tips on getting their work out there?
Submittable is your best friend! Sign up for the submittable newsletter to see what journals are looking for what, and then submit any- and everywhere. I was lucky enough to win some poetry contests that helped me foot the bill for submittable submissions, but it can get tricky since so many journals require a submission fee.
How has your work evolved over time?
My work has kind of always been about the same topics: specific instances of poverty, death, or identity. But I think I’m letting myself be more experimental now than what I used to do. Part of being able to get my work out there was learning to believe in myself as a poet. I had to literally start small by telling people, out loud, that I was a poet, which was so hard, but really helped me believe in what I was doing. Of course, if you write poetry, you’re a poet, but it’s so hard to accept a label like that for yourself and feel like your work adds something to the conversation.
What’s your creative process like? Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I wish I had a good answer for this! I am a journalist by day and there have been so many times that I’m reading an article or hearing the news and have to stop and write a response to it. When I get those surges of inspiration, I can write an entire poem quickly in about 5 minutes. Sometimes I have one line that I sit with for weeks until I can go back and write the rest of it. Mostly I’m going weeks without writing anything at all, which, I think, is normal.
Who are some creators, artists, or female entrepreneurs we should be following right now? Who would you like to see us interview next?
Once I started writing about My Tex-Mex self, a friend suggested I check out Monica McClure’s poems, who I’ve been looking up to ever since. I always feel inspired after I read her work, and I recognize certain pains in her poems that are similar to what I felt and faced growing up in Texas. Also, I used to work with Kylah Benes-Trapp and she’s an incredible self-made filmmaker/artist.
Be sure to check out “23 Emotions” on Amazon