Kylan Rice is a PhD candidate and Arts Everywhere fellow here at UNC. As the head of the UNC Short Story editorial board, Kylan leads a team of undergraduates to help carry out campaigns like the famous short story dispensers seen across campus. We recently had the opportunity to find out more about his writing, his Arts Everywhere experience, and what surprising book was the first to make him cry. Read Kylan’s interview below, and be sure to check out his social media and site linked at the end of the post!
Getting to Know Kylan
Q: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into writing
A: I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a writer. Embarrassingly, my first email address, which I obtained when I was twelve, used the handle “urge2write” – which I guess shows that my aspirations had taken full root by then. I think what I liked best about writing then is close to the reason I keep doing it now: the mind on the page becomes a source of surprise to itself. Today I would add that there is something about working in language that alters the life of the writer; since we perceive so much of the world through language, writing can be used as a tool for augmenting or intensifying daily experience.
As a teenager, I continued to write every day, a habit that persisted through college as well as my MFA in Creative Writing, which I received from Colorado State University. These days, I have to balance creative with academic writing, since I’m four years into a PhD in American literature, working on a dissertation about poetry, gender, and gemology. Though that balance is sometimes hard to strike, I’m happy to announce that my first book, a collection of creative essays titled Incryptions, was recently published by Spuyten Duyvil—the late or early fruit of a seventeen-year dream.
Q: Does writing energize you or exhaust you?
A: Writing energizes me when it feels urgent or honest, which is not all the time. I think successful writers try to turn their writing into a habit, but the downside of anything habitual is that it can start to feel route and automatic, which saps the task of its vivid necessity. Writing exhausts me if I haven’t spent time during the rest of the day preparing a kernel of disquiet or anxiety able to needle the moment of composition into a heightened state of eustress and tension.
Q: Do you believe in writer’s block/writer’s fog?
A: Returning to my answer to the question above, about energy and exhaustion, I absolutely believe in writer’s block/fog, but I think it’s a symptom of life practices and the corresponding health of the writer’s interior milieu. Most of the real work of writing happens off the page, in our listening encounters with the world, with other people, other books. Fog drifts in when a writer hasn’t taken care to prevent various forms of desensitization or emotional distraction. Writing is a whole-body, whole-person activity, so sometimes the best treatment for fogginess is, as the poet Rilke says, to “change your life,” even if only in a small way.
Q: Biggest mistakes you see aspiring writers make?
A: This is a tough question to answer, since I think there are many different paths to the writing life. Maybe the worst mistake a writer can make is to give up writing, which usually happens due to a lack of confidence or lack of “time,” which actually translates in my experience to a lack of community as much as to a lack of passion. Find a support group. Writing is often thought of as a solitary endeavor, but I think the biggest mistake an aspiring writer can make is to isolate or shelter their work from friends and critics. Sharing your labor with others builds confidence and gives you a source of local motivation and accountability.
Q: How do you balance writing for yourself with your other editorial and school responsibilities?
A: As I hinted above, my main struggle while pursuing a PhD has been to try to strike some kind of balance between creative writing and other work. To some degree, I think that every writer has to adopt a territorial attitude toward their own projects, making time for them even if it means sacrificing quality in other areas of life. There will always be time for what you prioritize in life, and always some agony involved in that effort to allot and divvy up. I think another difficulty is being able to “switch brains” as you move between creative and noncreative or differently-creative tasks. A poet-brain is very different from a scholar-brain, so I think it’s important to learn how to get “in the zone” at a moment’s notice. I imagine artists who are also parents have to be good at this, snatching small intervals of time to be creative before returning to the distracting demands of raising a kid.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I recently finished a poetry manuscript that collects writing from the past two or three years. In it, I try to explore the conflicted relationship between love and vision (as distinct from sight), or between this-worldly devotion to other people and devotion to some otherworldly ideal or cosmology. My primary inspiration came from the twentieth-century poets H.D. and Robert Duncan, who infused the visionary mode that poets like William Blake and W.B. Yeats inhabited with a lyric vulnerability.
Short Story Questions
Q: Tell us about your position and role as an Arts Everywhere fellow.
A: I’m lucky enough to be able to lead a small team of undergraduate editors working together to circulate and promote local writing with the help of eight short story dispensers positioned across the UNC-CH campus and in the Chapelboro community. My job is to make sure that people can access our content, which features some of the best prose and poetry coming out of our community, and to make sure that writers know that they can think of us as a unique publishing venue for their work. This involves moving and maintaining (quite large and heavy!) machines as well as directing regular social engagement campaigns.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the role of the editorial board and your experience working with them?
A: Working with the Short Story UNC editorial board (which currently enlists four student editors) is the best part of my job. It is an inspiration to observe and learn from the passion my team has for local literature and its careful curation. The editorial board reads new submissions and helps brainstorm and implement creative strategies for showcasing important prose and poetry coming out of Carolina.
Q: How has the pandemic affected your efforts?
A: The pandemic has posed a special challenge to our team, since we promote physical, embodied, and tactile encounters between readers and local literature. As much of daily/campus life now takes place online, it has been more difficult to dispense our content to UNC students, faculty, and staff, but we have managed to continue to delight an expanded audience of readers by moving our machines into businesses and art organizations around Chapel Hill and Carrboro, including FRANK Art Gallery, Honeysuckle Café, and Epilogue Books and Café. To limit the spread of pathogens, Arts Everywhere also sponsored an interface redesign on all of our machines so that they now dispense through motion activation, rather than the press of a button.
Q: Hopes and goals for Short Story by the end of the school year and for the future?
A: We will continue to explore innovative ways to reach new readers and track down great new writing. Part of this effort will involve moving dispensers to different locations in Chapelboro and the RTP area more broadly, but my team also hopes to launch a series of targeted, creative engagement promos that will hopefully see us partnering with local businesses to boost readership. Another goal is to team up with other campus publications, including Carolina Quarterly and Cellar Door to cross-promote and feature some of the great NC-related work that they have shepherded into the world. Finally, I am always looking for ways to build a community identity around the dispensers, so that the machines might be a source of connectedness and literary kinship as much as a source of fun entertainment.
Q: What you love most about the Short Story dispensers?
A: I like to think of the dispensers as a tech-savvy throw-back to or update of grassroots zine cultures that flourished in the 60s-80s, when local artists and writers would publish ephemera with a literary edge. Writers who publish with us have the unique opportunity to reach readers with whom they physically share community spaces, which is, I think, increasingly rare as definitions of community continue to detach from spatial or geographical reference points. Maybe what I love most about the machines is that I don’t think local writers have fully caught sight of this vision, and that the dispensers still retain this enormous, untapped potential to create a coherent literary identity made for and by the students on our campus as well as word-lovers in and around Chapel Hill.
Q: Favorite underappreciated work?
A: I study a lot of nineteenth-century women writers, and I really think that Harriet Prescott Spofford is one of the best writers of short fiction in American history. Check out “The Amber Gods”!
Q: Favorite childhood book?
A: Probably My Side of the Mountain by Jean George. It instilled in me an important sense of adventure and independence, I think.
Q: First book to make you cry?
A: John Milton’s Paradise Lost, lol (but seriously).
Q: Last work that you read?
A: Old stuff: Henry James’s The Golden Bowl. New stuff: GC Waldrep’s The Earliest Witnesses.
Q: Favorite piece of yours that you’re most proud of?
A: My first book, Incryptions.