Jennifer Scappettone

recorded in Chicago, IL


Jennifer Scappettone

I’m Jennifer Scappettone and I live in Andersonville, in the northern part of Chicago. I work in the southern part of Chicago, in Hyde Park, at the University of Chicago, and it was their phenomenal offer of a job to me that brought me here from Berkeley, via Brooklyn and Middletown, Connecticut. I’m actually from New York, and that’s probably the city I identify with the most. I “grew up” as a writer in Nagoya, Japan, where I discovered Language poetry in the form of Leslie Scalapino’s work, which was introduced to me by a fellow writer and musician. I ended up going to Berkeley to do my PhD and also an MA in creative writing. I started a reading series and potluck and dance party series there with the poet Joshua Clover; I continued it with Julie Carr; and that was the beginning for me of a blossoming of community that was really phenomenal in its formation of me as a writer. So moving to Chicago has been a big transition. The writing community here is one thing—but I actually identify with a range of artists, many of whom work at the Art Institute of Chicago. They include the Goat Island Performance Collective and the electronic writer Judd Morrissey, and friends of mine who would not identify as “Chicago writers,” but who live here. It’s strange to be allocated to a certain geography; I actually don’t connect with only one geography and this is a period of global migration, so it seems more and more complicated to say that you’re from a given place. Insofar as Chicago is in the middle of things and it’s a huge, diverse metropolis, I do feel like it’s appropriate that I live here, but Chicago is a very different city from New York, geographically speaking. And it’s also geographically very different from the Bay Area. So how it affects my writing is an open question. I find it a very masculine city, and the writing community here dominated by men, which is very bizarre for me, after living in the Bay Area, which is dominated by women and a sense of queer community.

The Knox Writers’ House

Do you think that there’s a Chicago or a Midwestern voice that you recognize, now that you’ve lived here—maybe as an outsider?


By voice, do you mean one writer, or a collective voice?


A style, or an aesthetic. Or even content.


I think that the voice here…It’s difficult to say, because of what I was just talking about, but there is a way in which the realism of Carl Sandburg wants to be retained by certain of the writers. On the other hand, frankly, I feel it’s diluted by many of the writers who are coming through the Iowa Writers’ Workshop—that is the aesthetic that dominates this city because it’s so close to Iowa City, and I think that they’ve lost a little bit of the grit of Carl Sandburg. Which is a phenomenon that interests me, even though I find his work a bit difficult to take in its broad shouldered-ness and its overwhelming masculinity [laughs]. I think that the writing community here is not as diverse as it should be. That is to say, there are people from all over, here, yet it wasn’t until the poet-translator Jen Hofer came to do a reading with Dolores Dorantes and other Mexican poets that I actually went to a literary event in Pilsen and it was by far dominated by people for whom Spanish was a first language. And it was really fantastic. And it made me sorry that that kind of thing doesn’t occur more here.

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