Simone Person| Dislocate
an excerpt & interview
Sheri shakes me awake. She’s half out of her sleeping bag, a flashlight pressed under her chin. It’s spreading shadows across her fleshy face. Most of her sleepover had focused on going through the library books she checked out of the supernatural and paranormal section. We copied down notes about the Bunny Man on the pilfered legal pads from my mom’s home office. Every so often Sheri would look up and tell me a new part of the mythos. He had the power of illusion and liked to isolate his victims. Most people didn’t even know he was stalking them until it was too late, his breath on their neck and the cold metal of his axe against their skin, ready to slice.
He was supposed to live under the bridge tunnel behind her house. Sometimes he was an escapee from a state hospital, other times a passenger who had died in a freak train accident a century earlier. Nobody had been able to prove his existence. But nobody had been able to disprove it either, Sheri said. She pointed out local missing persons’ cases, newspaper clippings about lowering wildlife populations in town, and some sorority girl’s murder—making sure I read the part where police revealed her wounds were consistent with that of an axe. All proof he’s out there, she said.
Bunny Man’s a bunch of crap to me. I mean, come on, a guy who wears a bunny costume and hacks up people with an axe? Get real.
In what ways do your daily experiences and observations from your present situation living as a black person in a predominantly white area of the Midwest fuel your writing?
I think a lot about the ways I don’t fit in—because of my Blackness and fatness and womanhood—and of the energy I expend trying to stay several steps ahead of others to avoid pain and stress and danger that can arise from navigating predominately white spaces in a highly politicized body. I’m always interested in reading and writing characters who deeply want to exist in the world, but can’t for whatever reason. Maybe I’m cynical, but those kinds of stories have always felt more real to me than ones where everyone lives happily ever after.
Where do you go to see representations of yourself? What are the stories that sustain you?
Literature is presented as a straight, cis white dude’s game, which isn’t too far from the truth, unfortunately, but I’ve been lucky enough to come across Morgan Parker’s There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé—a collection so good it made me completely embarrass myself and sob in front of her when I met her in Bloomington over this past summer—Danielle Evans’ Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, and Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely and Citizen. Outside of reading, Insecure is, of course, a must—I can only hope to be as fly as Issa and Molly one day. More importantly, my relationships with Black women and the stories we tell each other—of our days, of our hopes and insecurities and fears—are where I most firmly see myself and what sustains me.
You’re currently a Fiction MFA candidate at Indiana University. What do you think about the influence of academia on writing, both your own and the work of others?
I think academia protects a lot of oppressive ideas because of this insistence on “content, not craft,” as if the content just magically appears on the page, and the author is at the mercy of a muse, not that it’s a case of an author who grew up under white supremacy and anti-Blackness, and whose thinking is, whether we like it or not, deeply influenced by our cultures. I think writers of color, especially Black women, are expected not only to write stories about race that aren’t too much about race—meaning they don’t make non-Black people feel bad and/or responsible for anti-Blackness, but are still diverse in an easily digestible way—while teaching everyone and being a source of inspiration (and all without pay! Behavior that’s especially ridiculous considering that Google’s free, and numerous writers of color have been writing about this since forever) which can be a major source of stress, and contribute to us feeling isolated/excommunicated when we don’t play into that. My work and my interests have always been firmly situated in Black peoples, but in academia, I feel it’s more important than ever to write about Blackness and my experiences to push back against the anti-Black rhetoric of the literary canon. Focusing on my work and what I want to do and what’s important to me, especially when others question why my characters are Black, is what’s been fueling me through grad school.
You write about adolescent characters in a way that feels so incredibly real in “Bunny Man” that I couldn’t help wondering: what were you like in high school?
Like my characters: sad, out of place, isolated. It’s hard to be a Black girl because we’re never allowed to be girls, or even people.
Simone Person grew up in small Michigan towns and Toledo, Ohio, and is a dual MFA/MA in Fiction and African American and African Diaspora Studies at Indiana University. Her work has appeared in Queen Mob’s Teahouse and Amazon’s Day One, among others, and has been anthologized in Crab Fat Magazine: Best of Year Three. She sporadically uses Twitter and Instagram at @princxporkchop.