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Pyae Moe Thet War Knows What Makes a Good Essay
In this interview, Tajja Isen talks to Pyae Moe Thet War about her new collection ‘You’ve Changed,’ finding her voice as a writer, and publishing a book on her own terms.
You’ve Changed: Fake Accents, Feminism, and Other Comedies from Myanmar
Tajja Isen: How are you feeling at this stage of the publishing journey?
TI: You mention in the book, as you alluded to just now, that you’ve been working on some of these essays for a long time. How did you find the throughline that took these discrete pieces and turned them into a book?
TI: Jess Zimmerman! “If your writing had a refrain, what would it be?” I love that tweet.
TI: That makes sense to me, because your essays all feel very cohesive, not just in subject matter, but in voice. You have this very assured, very distinctive voice, and you’re very, very funny. I would love to hear about how you approach bringing humor to the page.
it’s not good if somebody understands what my writing is saying. It’s too simple.
TI: I want to go back to something you mentioned about the expectations that are placed on racialized writers, on non-Western writers, on Myanmar writers. I was so interested in how you built that awareness into the book, especially in the essay “Unique Selling Point.” First of all, how do you navigate that on the page, and second, how are you dealing with it at this stage of publication?
Did I screw up my chances?
TI: The absence of evidence being the evidence of absence.
allcanOh no, did I just screw up my chances of getting a book deal, or getting represented?
TI: That you build those conversations into the book is such a service to emerging writers and to people who are thinking about putting together a book proposal—to know that that’s the industry, that’s the challenge, but this is how you’ve decided to tell your story and these are the principles you’re going to hold firm to. I have tremendous respect for you for doing that. Because it’s hard.
TI: The way I sometimes think about it is, you write a book, and you have your content and your form. A dominant tendency in publishing when it comes to work by writers of color is to neglect the form and talk about the content, or talk about the writer’s identity as if it forms the entirety of the content.
What if this is my one shot?
TI: I want to switch gears and ask you about craft. I’ve had the pleasure of editing you twice for the magazine and both times they’ve been writing- and craft-focused essays. What draws you to craft pieces? Maybe you want to touch on your teaching as well—I was so excited to learn that you’re going to be teaching a class for Catapult!
TI: It’s what we’re here for!
That paragraph, there’s something wrong with it. It’s just not working.
TI: I have one more question: Not to be creepy, but I saw you tweeting about having finished a manuscript draft. What are you working on next?
Tajja Isen (@tajjaisen) is the editor-in-chief of Catapult. Her first book, Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service, was published in April 2022.
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