H. Melt is the author of The Plural, The Blurring. Their work proudly documents Chicago’s queer and trans communities. Their writing has been published by many places including In These Times, Lambda Literary, and Them, the first trans literary journal in the United States. They work at the Poetry Foundation and Chicago’s feminist bookstore.
H. Melt, along with Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, Devon Llywelyn Jones, Cam Awkward-Rich, and TC Tolbert, contributed as guest editors to The Offing‘s Trans Issue 2015, which ran from November 16-26, 2015.
Interview questions by The Offing Poetry reader, C. Russell Price.
C. RUSSELL PRICE: You’re a collector of stories from the Chicago queer community; do you find that these stories come to you more often as spoken or written?
H. MELT: They often come to me through experience — my own personal experiences in the city. A lot of the stories are directly related to physical spaces and the people within them. Sometimes these stories are spoken to me, but a lot of times they come from observation, from being present and taking note of the culture and the changes happening around me. I wish that more of Chicago’s queer history was written down and that more people were writing about it in the present.
You currently work for the Poetry Foundation. What work should be done to diversify the voices championed by major, influential publications?
I want to clarify that I don’t work for the magazine. I’m part of the library and education team. I specifically lead field trips for groups ranging in age from elementary to grad school students and beyond. I see my job as trying to get people excited about poetry, and to show them that it’s something that is relevant to their lives and that they can participate in.
There’s so much work to be done. I don’t know if we should depend on major publications to do this work. They should be more inclusive, of course, but I don’t think we need validation from them. I think it’s equally important that we create our own publications that celebrate our work and lives.
I live beside Parlour (or what was Parlour) and enjoyed your piece about claiming spaces for queer bodies, or rather, the necessity of claiming space for queer bodies. What is your advice to readers who may not live in major cities on creating a safe space for trans and gender nonconforming folks in their own area?
The Parlour essay is one of my favorite pieces in the book. I sent it to the former owners and they were so grateful for it. They are the reason that there’s a line in there about meeting your wife — one of the owners met her wife there on the first day they opened.
My advice would be that queer spaces can be anywhere. They can be in your backyard. They can be on your bookshelf. They can be wherever you are. Even somewhere as simple as in a letter to a pen pal. Queer spaces don’t have to be in a club or bar.
Your book The Plural, The Blurring is soon to be released: who were your influences (literary, musically, culturally, …)?
A lot of my main influences are actually in the book. That’s the beautiful thing about it. Ryka Aoki’s first book Seasonal Velocities gave me permission to create a mixed-genre book that is about trans lives. I think even the form of blurring the lines between genres can be read as a trans idea. Edie Fake is obviously a huge influence, and I am so honored that he did the cover art. Particularly his series Memory Palaces (which I discuss in the book) was useful in exploring the relationship between queer history and art in Chicago. Oli Rodriguez is a really important mentor to me, and I love the ways that his Papi Project combines his personal family history with Chicago’s queer past.
There’s this lovely coincidence that so many writers who identify as gnc/trans also dabble in other mediums. What draws you to making art vs. writing?
I think part of it is the physical need to make something. My art is more conceptual than my writing, but they are expressing the same ideas around identity, place, and community. Sometimes my art will inspire my writing and vice versa. I have several poems about flags in the book and have made a lot of art involving flags. Sometimes you need to hand a poster or button to someone instead of handing them a poem.
Who are you currently reading that we should fall in love with?
I’ve recently read books by Pat Parker (Jonestown and Other Madness), Sarah Schulman (Gentrification of the Mind), Essex Hemphill (Ceremonies), and Eli Clare (Exile and Pride) that have inspired me. I can’t wait for the chapbook Sad Girl Poems by Christopher Soto (aka Loma). I’m also looking forward to Cam Awkward-Rich’s book Sympathetic Little Monster, and I think everyone is waiting for Ocean Vuong’s book Night Sky with Exit Wounds to come out.
What piece of writing has most spoken to you as a trans/gnc person?
This is a hard question to answer because sometimes writing by or about trans people doesn’t speak to me at all. And sometimes writing that I do like doesn’t speak to my experiences as a trans person. I’ve been reading a lot of writing by Chelsea Manning, and she wrote this critique of a new book, Becoming Nicole, that is about a young trans woman and her family but not written by her. At the end, she says:
My message to Nicole, if she ever reads this: You are an amazing writer and you can be one hell of an inspiration to people like me. You should write your own story — fiction or nonfiction — in your own voice. We want to hear you.
Chelsea also had Casey Plett’s A Safe Girl to Love confiscated. What this all means to me is that trans literature is vital. What really speaks to me is trans people writing about their own lives.