The PEN Ten with Rachel Rosenfelt
When did being a writer begin to inform your sense of identity?
For me, it’s more that realizing my calling was not writing that I began to find my identity. I’d always been a talented writer relative to my peers and fostered a passion for ideas, which I believed to be best explored in the essay form. But as my sensibility developed, I began to see the wealth of untapped talent surrounding me both on and offline. I had the key insight that writing is not the only outlet for the expression of ideas and in fact, the many-faceted idea most stimulating me in the heart of the recession, student debt crisis, “death of print,” rise of digital media, Arab Spring and Occupy, could best find its voice in the form of a platform enabling the collective talent of others. From that came The New Inquiry.
Whose work would you like to steal without attribution or consequences?
I like to think that if I kept writing, my work would have some resemblance to Sarah Nicole Prickett’s. She’s getting better and better, so I’d even more jump at the chance to steal her work if we’re talking a lifetime proposition.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I don’t write, but if I did, I’d probably say…The New Inquiry.
Have you ever been arrested? Care to discuss?
I’ve never been arrested, but I’ve been reprimanded and lectured plenty enough.
Obsessions are influences—what are yours?
I’m almost always avidly consuming whatever work I can get my hands on by angry, defiant and original women in literature, art and ideas. I’m going to get in trouble for saying this, but their ideology is less important to me than the pose they strike. I happily contain their multitudes.
What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever put into words?
I once tweeted that my neurologist is cash only. It was a scandal.
What is the responsibility of the writer?
Nothing to no one.
While the notion of the public intellectual has fallen out of fashion, do you believe writers have a collective purpose?
Has it? I disagree. I think we’re witnessing a revival right now. I can’t say that all writers have a collective purpose, but collectives of writers might if they so choose.
What message would you send to an imprisoned writer?
Is a metal file a message?
What book would you send to the leader of his or her government?
I don’t know if a single book would have the power to persuade an authoritarian mind. Maybe Leaves of Grass if there’s some hope for their soul.
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