Q (Katrina Gray): Hello, Kait Mauro. Before we get into Like Birds Lit, I have to ask: Do you fill your camera will rocket fuel and Wheaties? Because I’ve been stalking you, and I see you have some powerful photos (I might even call them poems-on-film) up at www.kaitmauro.com. My favorite is the one where the much-taller adult video sign looms over the less-imposing “Jesus is watching you” billboard. That’s gold, finding something like that.
A (Kait Mauro): Haha well wow, thank you. That makes me happy. Photography has been one of my obsessions for a while now. That picture is a littler older, from a couple summers ago. My sister and I were on a road-trip, we started in Austin and worked our way up to Northern California. We were staying in the shadiest motels because we hated to pay more than $30 a night for a room. Then one morning I looked outside and saw that. It had been dark when we’d gotten in the night before so I hadn’t noticed. Just one of those “someone up there clearly has a sense of humor” moments.
Like Birds Lit–the site, not the group–came along in May 2010, and it’s now gone. Can you tell me a bit about its birth, death, and everything in-between? If you’re privy, you might even share what it wants to be when it reincarnates, just so we call all be watching out for it. Also, how is an “online literature collective” different from a journal/mag/zine?
I started Like Birds Lit towards the end of my time in high school. I was quite bored and just really craving a new creative outlet at the time. I had a ball creating the website and soliciting submissions from writers on Fictionaut, it was a really fun project to work on. But then I started at Wash U in the fall and I just didn’t have time to put into it anymore, so it pretty much ended there. I’m still really interested in the whole zine, independent publishing, collective creativity scene. I plan on jumping back into that sooner or later, I’m just not sure what that incarnation will look like.
Oh, and I don’t think it is so literally different from a journal/magazine/zine, for me a “collective” just felt less formal – there weren’t editions or issues or anything, things were just posted as they were submitted. I like the word “collective” better than “zine” or “journal” too, feels more organic maybe, more co-operative, it’s just one of those language things.
So now the Like Birds Lit group functions as kind of a class reunion for some of the stories and poems on the site, right? What made Fictionaut a natural home for a continuation of the site?
Well, it just kind of happened that way. Initially I had the group and the site running simultaneously but when I didn’t have time to maintain the site, the group lingered on because it didn’t really need anything from me. I definitely always saw the site as very connected to my experience of the FN community though, it was just kind of a branch of that that I wanted to take further and to explore.
I see you’re majoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University. This is completely awesome. So I can pretty much assume you don’t mean “like women/chicks/broads/skirts” when you say “like birds.” But what *do* you mean? Is the title meant to be a command? (YOU: LIKE BIRDS. NOW.) Or “birds of a feather, here flocking together”? Or maybe, “here are some things similar to birds”? Did Anne Lamott have a hand in naming the site-slash-group?
Good question. When I named the group, I really just liked the way the words sounded together – which sounds like a loopy thing to say but as someone who writes and reads and just loves language, the way they taste and sound and yada yada, I just enjoyd the way the words worked together. I think Anne Lamott may have had something to do with it though. I really adore birds and I think it probably does have to do with the fact that Bird by Bird has been my favorite book for like nine years now. A family friend actually recommened I read it when I was eleven or so years old, after warning my mother that it contained the f-word… and I was just in love with it. Anne is still my favorite author, I actually “friended” her son on facebook, that’s how much I adore her books haha. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that but really, why not? It’s a little bit stalker-like but it’s human and seeing pictures of where they live in California makes me happy, so there’s that. I talked to my university about bringing her here to speak but when I contacted her agent, she told me how much Anne really doesn’t like to travel, how unhappy and anxious it makes her, so I decided I’ll just go to California to hear her sometime.
There’s another line too, from the very end of a Marina Carr play called By the Bog of Cats, that goes something kind of like, “She’s cut her heart out, see it lying there on her chest like some dark, feathered thing.” Which is very dark and sinister but it also feels related to art and to writing and to being creative in any public sort of sense.
Q: You are an activist. Tell me how you’ve seen art shift the direction of a political or social movement, and in what way you’d like to see another shift take place. Does gender play a role in the perceived power of artistic voice? You totally have the podium here….
Haha well, that’s wonderful except those are huge questions and I am intimidated by the podium. I will try to answer in little snippets and to be as genuine as I can. I do consider myself an activist now. It’s not a role I conciously decided to play but it came about organically. What happened was that I finally realized the kind of people I was happiest around: the writers (naturally), the artists, the passionate ones. And it turned out that a lot of these people were also activists, so I started to learn about that way of living and so far it has fit me well and I have never felt more consistently okay. From where I am now, it’s hard for me to see how any thinking, feeling human being who exists in this place could go through life without feeling the deep injustice of it all and becoming an activist in some ways, but I guess that’s what so much of society tries to create – the white noise to make that kind of existence posssible. People see what they want to see until something very real happens to them, for the most part, I think, anyway.
I really don’t feel like I can say anything about how art can create change in a movement or in politics, I’d feel incredibly pretentious, but I do know that art has power and creativity is so important and I think the world would be a better place if there was more art and more creativity involved in all processes and systems. One area of activism that I find really interesting is civil disobedience, which really worries some of the more anxious people around me, and creativity is a huge asset to those kinds of actions. I think the way people think of “art” and its place in society is very limiting.
For the other question, I will just say simply that gender plays a role in everything.
Katrina Gray checks in with Fictionaut groups every Friday. She lives in Nashville with the writer John Minichillo and their lovechild. She is the editor-in-chief of Atticus Review, and she blogs about mostly non-literary things at www.katrinagray.com.