Jonathan Escoffery on How Nella Larsen’s Helga Crane Influenced His Debut Collection
This Week on The Literary Life with Mitchell Kaplan
On today’s episode of The Literary Life, Mitchell Kaplan is joined by Jonathan Escoffery to discuss his debut collection, If I Survive You, out now from MCD.
From the episode:
Jonathan Escoffery: Helga Crane [the protagonist of Nella Larsen’s novel Quicksand], she has this experience where she is teaching. This is, first of all, taking place in the 1920s, and she’s teaching in the south. She’s a biracial black and white woman, and she’s having one kind of experience that she’s very much aware of. But then she goes to Chicago, she goes to Harlem, she goes to travel abroad to Europe, where she meets some some distant family there. And in each of these locations, she’s having a very different experience. She’s having people respond to her, her body, to her physicality, the way she presents or the way they perceive her presentation, I suppose. And she’s, to me, such a wonderful character because she’s so able to unpack what’s happening to her. But she also can’t necessarily change what’s happening to her. And she can make decisions to, you know, leave or stay. But her options are limited to that.
Jonathan Escoffery is the recipient of the 2020 Plimpton Prize for Fiction, a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, and the 2020 ASME Award for Fiction. His fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, American Short Fiction, Prairie Schooner, AGNI, Passages North, Zyzzyva, and Electric Literature, and has been anthologized in The Best American Magazine Writing. He received his MFA from the University of Minnesota, is a PhD fellow in the University of Southern California’s PhD in Creative Writing and Literature Program, and in 2021 was awarded a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in the Creative Writing Program at Stanford University. If I Survive You is his debut book.