How to See Your Work in the Context of a Broader Literary History: an Interview with Amanda Montei
by Writing Workshops Staff
2 months ago
WW: Your memoir, Touched Out, delves into the convergence of motherhood and misogyny. What prompted you to explore this intersection, and how did your personal experiences as a new mother influence your perspective?
AM: This book is about motherhood as an institution, so there are elements of what I’m looking at in the book that are age-old attitudes about women. But this book is also about becoming a mother during the height of the MeToo movement, and what it was like to witness that movement growing, to process it, and to try to make sense of my own coming-of-age, while at the same time moving through the disorienting experience of early motherhood.
WW: The #MeToo movement has had a profound impact on our society. How did this cultural reckoning reshape your understanding of motherhood and the societal expectations placed on women, especially regarding caregiving and consent?
AM: This all is really the meat of my book, but I’d say that generally, what I explore in Touched Out is the intersection between a growing care politics and the work feminist thinkers and writers have been doing around sexual politics for decades. Those two areas of feminist thought don’t always converge, even though they are always, at least implicitly, connected. For those of us socialized as girls, they’re also connected in less intellectual ways, such as in the way we come to understand our bodies and who and what they’re supposed to be for. Many girls understand their bodies as objects from a young age, but also as caregivers. We grow up learning what the world thinks our bodies are for, to mistrust our own versions of events, and to think of motherhood as the ultimate form of self-actualization, and all these lessons emerge from a paradigm of entitlement to women’s bodies and women’s work.
WW: Your memoir references renowned feminist voices like bell hooks, Silvia Federici, and Adrienne Rich. How did their works guide or challenge your thought process while writing Touched Out? Were there moments of epiphany or conflict as you connected their insights to your experiences?
AM: Yes, I was studying those thinkers before I became a mother, but applying them to my real life was completely different from studying them as an intellectual or creative exercise. One of the things I explore in the book is the effort to sort of live by one’s politics, and how challenging that can be. One conflict there, which I think has been a sticking point for feminism and feminists for a long time, is the tension between understanding that care work and mothering are valuable forms of creative, erotic, intellectual, and political labor, while at the same time living in society that does not see the work that way. A lot of this book is about what it feels like trying to reckon with that disconnect.
WW: Considering the critique Touched Out provides about American rape culture and its manifestation within motherhood, how do you envision a more holistic and supportive system of care for mothers in America? What changes, both cultural and institutional, do you think are paramount?
AM: These changes have been well-outlined by liberal and radical feminists for decades: we need paid leave, subsidized childcare, better postpartum care, a basic income and continuous social services, the list goes on. And we need men in childcare— not just in domestic settings, but in daycares and early education. In Touched Out, I explore the fundamental beliefs that underlie the rejection of these basic, commonsense, pro-woman, pro-child policies. What are the narratives and mechanisms of power that allow so many people to ignore the voices of women who demand these policies? What are the reasons those in power have for keeping women out of public life and how do they dance around that social and political entitlement to women’s unpaid work? How has the denial of pregnant people’s bodily autonomy become so central to the story of motherhood, and family? These are some of the questions that I explore in the book.
WW: You're also leading a new Advanced Memoir Draft Generator for Writing Workshops, which is an 8-Week Zoom Workshop. Students enrolled in your masterclass can expect an immersive experience where they'll delve deeply into the nuances of memoir writing. The journey begins with collaborative writing sessions, allowing peers to familiarize themselves with each other's work and to discuss individual project-specific craft concerns. As the weeks progress, students will be integrated into workshops, receiving invaluable feedback from you and their peers. Every writer has a unique voice and perspective. How do you adapt your teaching and feedback to suit the individual needs of your students?
AM: We keep the class small so that everyone in the workshop can get to know each other’s books and support each other during our time together and beyond. We talk about the state of the genre and craft concerns, but in classes like this one, I am also deeply invested in every student’s book. When I’m providing feedback, or designing lessons and prompts, I’m always thinking of what’s coming up for the group, and for students individually. What areas of craft or process are the writers struggling with? How can I help them write into those problems or talk through them or look at things a different way? The goal is always to keep writing, to finish the draft, but also to figure out what each book is telling us about what it wants and needs to be, and how to get it there in a way that also considers the writer’s daily life.
WW: Your workshop description mentions incorporating research into memoir. Can you expand on why this is important and how it enhances a memoir's narrative?
AM: I don’t think every memoir or nonfiction project needs a researched element, but we’re certainly seeing this happen a lot more. What I value about writers who incorporate research into their nonfiction is that it allows readers to connect with the narrator as a thinking being. In my classes, we talk a lot about the importance of the narrator showing up on the page— not just as a character, but as a body. And it’s very compelling to see a body sorting through books or family diaries or other cultural or archival materials, or even just watching TV or a film, trying to root out some answer to a question or uncover something about themselves and the world. Isn’t that what we’re all doing every day?
WW: Memoirs often touch on deeply personal and sometimes contentious topics. Can you share your insights on navigating the ethical considerations when writing about real-life events and people?
AM: I use a trauma-informed lens in all my classes to help provide support to students who are working through painful memories or experiences. We do not follow a cutthroat, free-for-all, workshop model, but rather emphasize care in our work together. I also teach on this topic of writing about other people often, so I have lots of thoughts on the subject. Above all, it’s important for writers to remember that they themselves are people, and not everything is a question of craft— sometimes it’s a question of ethics, sometimes it’s a question about a complex personal relationship. Writing memoir can really turn us inside out. It can be confronting. It can shake us to our core or challenge what we think we know about ourselves and other people and the world. This can be powerful and life-altering. It can also be difficult and terrifying. So it’s really crucial that we care for ourselves and others who might be implicated by our writing throughout the process. In other cases, it can be important we look out for the story and for ourselves above the interests of those who would rather us keep quiet.
WW: With the rise of experimental and hybrid memoirs, how do you see the memoir genre evolving, and what opportunities do these changes present for aspiring writers?
AM: The genre has evolved in recent decades in a lot of wonderful ways, but there’s also a pull, in the age of social media and wellness-speak, to turn every personal narrative into an inspirational, pseudo-self-help text. I think we’re going to see more and more books rejecting that frame as people tire of it and returning to the aesthetics of essay and memoir— that’s exciting.
WW: Beyond the actual writing, what advice and guidance do you provide to students looking to take their memoirs from the workshop setting to a published book?
AM: We spend a lot of time discussing what it takes to publish a book and become a working writer. A large part of what I hope students accomplish in a generator like this one is not simply the production of a ton of pages, although it’s great if that happens. Rather, I want to help writers envision their book as a book, get a handle on their writing process in a sustainable way, and start seeing their writing within the context of a broader literary history.
You can learn more about Amanda's upcoming Beyond Memoir 8-Week Draft Generator and enroll if you're interested. We would be honored to write with you this year! So, what are you waiting for?
Instructor Amanda Montei is the author of Touched Out: Motherhood, Misogyny, Consent, and Control, the memoir Two Memoirs, and the prose chapbook The Failure Age. Amanda holds an MFA in writing from California Institute of the Arts and a PhD in literature from the Poetics Program at SUNY Buffalo. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Elle, TIME, The Cut, Literary Hub, Slate, The Believer, Vox, HuffPost, Rumpus, Salon, Ms. Magazine, and numerous literary journals and scholarly publications.