Carmen Maria Machado Q&A: “The Golden Girls is keeping me from losing my mind”

The author on the joys of television, the gift of ageing, and the powerful work of Saidiya Hartman.

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Carmen Maria Machado was born in Pennsylvania in 1986 and is a short story writer, essayist, novelist and critic. Her book “Her Body and Other Parties” was a finalist for the National Book Award.

What’s your earliest memory?

My mother bribing me with a green-eyed Cabbage Patch doll, whom I named Broccoli Eyes. Obviously.

Who are your heroes?

My childhood hero was Clara Barton – a nurse during the American Civil War who founded the Red Cross. Someone gave me a book about her when I was a kid and I became obsessed; it was a proto-feminist awakening. As an adult, it’s hard to say; “hero” is a strong word. It begs for a subject above reproach – someone who, as an adult, I know doesn’t exist.

What book last changed your thinking?

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman. Hartman’s scholarship about writing into and against archival silences (which was a real light-bulb moment for me when I was writing my memoir) comes to fruition in this book, which infuses the history of black women and queer radicals with incredible life and urgency. She basically invents a new genre.

Which political figure do you look up to?

I have found that most, if not all, political figures are often one or two reveals away from being a tremendous disappointment. I no longer make that mistake.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Haunted houses.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

If my own body and identity didn’t matter, I’d live during the time of the unfolding of a specific artistic movement: perhaps the Harlem Renaissance in New York or Oulipo in France.

What TV show could you not live without?

Reruns of The Golden Girls. It’s the only thing keeping me from losing my mind right now. For what it’s worth, I’m a Dorothy moon, Blanche rising.

Who would paint your portrait?

Leonora Carrington.

What’s your theme tune?

Salt-N-Pepa’s “Somebody’s Gettin’ on my Nerves”.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

The brilliant writer Kelly Link once advised me to learn how to say “no” to things, and it’s been a real lifesaver. I use it every day.

What’s currently bugging you?

My glasses slip down my nose when I wear a face mask and fall off when I lean over. I had to buy a set of eyeglass chains. What I really need is new glasses, for which I’d have to be able to make an eye doctor appointment, and what with everything as it is…

What single thing would make your life better?

Covid vanishing from the face of the Earth.

When were you happiest?

Every new year of my life brings a new happiness and a new kind of freedom; ageing is a gift.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I’ve always thought I’d have made a really great interior designer.

Are we all doomed?

We always have been. 

“In The Dream House” is published by Serpent’s Tail. Carmen Maria Machado is shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize; the winner is announced on 24 March

[see also: Anne Marie Rafferty Q&A: “I consider myself a stem-cell Brownite”]

This article appears in the 17 March 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The system cannot hold

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