Michael Harris Cohen has been published in various magazines and anthologies including Black Candies, The Dark, Catapult’s Tiny Crimes, The Exposition Review and Conjunctions. He is the winner of the Modern Grimmoire Literary Prize and has gained fellowships from The Djerassi Foundation, OMI International Arts Center, Jentel, and the Künstlerdorf Schöppingen Foundation. His first book, The Eyes, was published by Mixer Publishing. He lives with his wife and daughters in Sofia and teaches in the department of Literature and Theater at the American University in Bulgaria.
REDACT travels back to the Prussian censorship decree of 1819, where all published works were subject to censor, and all men of letters drafted as censors. A vision of the Nazi book burnings, more than a century later, weaves together three narrative strands that centre on censorship and creation.
To find out a little more about their work, we asked Michael the following questions…
What inspires your work?
Sheesh, where to start? I guess I’ll name drop just a few of the authors who’ve influenced me. I could likewise do an endless one for musicians, filmmakers, and visual artists.
In no particular order: Italo Calvino, Laird Barron, Samantha Hunt, Carmen Maria Machado, George Saunders, Carmen Maria Machado, Hubert Selby, Robert Coover, Brian Evenson, Toni Morrison, Marquez, Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter, Milorad Pavic, Atilla Bartis, Thomas Bernhard, Cormac McCarthy, Kelly Link, Jerzy Kosinski, William Burroughs, Emily Dickinson, Karen Russell, Ken Kesey and on and on.
In addition to that, I’ll quote Gertrude Stein: “And then there is using everything.”
Tell us a bit about your writing process…
Often it will be something observed that sparks a story, like an old man talking to himself on a park bench, as tears run down his face. I’ll wonder, “What is he thinking about? What brought him to this point?” Reading births stories too. I’ll read something and wonder about it going a different way, putting a different character in the same maze. Sometime it’s an odd factoid. For “Redact” I read an anecdote about a Prussian censor who went blind from reading so much text, a delicious poetic irony that got my gears churning.
I plan a little but usually just plunge into a piece. Sometimes I’ll have an ending in mind. I’ll throw it in the distance, like a stone, and walk towards it as I write. Ultimately, my process changes with each piece. Every story is its own puzzle, and much of what I’ve learned, writing previous stories, doesn’t necessarily help with what’s in front of me — new puzzle, new solution. This is both exhilarating and frustrating as hell, depending on the piece. As a friend of mine said, “Writing fiction is like chewing rocks.” But one must chew; or at least I have must.