At Electric Lit, Monster Portraits author Sofia Samatar gathers some of the leading lights in speculative and hybrid literature—Matthew Cheney, Carmen Maria Machado, and Rosalind Palermo Stevenson—for an illuminating discussion of the burgeoning (or newly named at least) genre of speculative memoir. Together they discuss the intersection of memoir and speculative fiction and how adding speculative and fantastical elements to their writing of “truth” makes it feel more authentic.
Rosalind Palermo Stevenson: “What excites me is the ability to give play to the imagination and through that to arrive at a place of emotional truth. Working with the speculative, the highly imagined, having the license to incorporate anything as long as that “anything” coheres and has integrity in relation to the piece itself is for me a way to go deeper into my interior world and in that sense to achieve the greatest degree of authenticity. I love the concept of the imagined becoming or being a vehicle of emotional reality.”
Sofia Samatar: “Everyone seems to be saying this, in some way — that it’s precisely the tropes of fantasy and science fiction that are capable of expressing trauma, it’s the impossible that conveys emotional reality, it’s the rush of imagined material that’s “the actual ‘me’ of me.” When I was writing my own uncanny autobiography, Monster Portraits, I felt something very much like what you’re saying, Rosalind — this incredible breadth, the license to incorporate anything. I was myself, my own memories were there, yet I also inhabited a series of monsters. And each monster revealed another facet of my thinking or experience.”