Interview with Kayla Altman on ‘The Politics of Being Ugly’

Kayla Altman

Kayla Altman is a Toronto artist, poet, writer, and editor. “The Politics of Being Ugly” is a collection of prose works, exploring the mundane and the bleak with a lens that is as whimsical as it is wry. My one-on-one interview with Kayla follows.

1. What is your background?

I completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at OCAD University and completed a minor in English. At the same time – really, my minor ended up having a massive influence on everything  I did during my undergrad. After OCAD I went on to complete a certificate on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which I completed while maintaining a focus on accessibility and its alignment within arts and culture.

2.  How did you come about this book? What motivated you write it?

I was taking a creative writing course and found that the prompts and deadlines that went with the class were actually really effective in getting me to produce work. My English professors at the time were incredible writers, Lillian Allen and Catherine Black, and while their creative works were remarkably different, they shared a genuine passion for writing, and even more so for nurturing that passion in others.

After I finished my BFA I really missed the structure and the critique that a classroom provided, and I got in touch with Catherine Black to ask if she had any advice for me. As it turned out, this initial email turned into ongoing meetings with Catherine over the next several months, editing and guiding what I was shocked to watch become a manuscript under her mentorship.

3. Society is infatuated with “beauty” and “prettiness.” Why did you choose to address “ugly” rather than “pretty”?

The word ‘ugly’ in the title is really about what it means in every way that it exists – it was never a choice between ugly and pretty, because it was never strictly about that understanding of the word. I thought about ugly and what that word meant to me – the way the word became a weapon when I was a kid, the way that its label could somehow stamp someone as dismissible; the internalization of the word. I thought about words that were synonymous with ugly, and how the world reacted to ugly, and how ugly reacted to the world. The book is about the wonderful and lovely and strange things that are labeled as ugly, and about the terrible and pretty things that truly embody it.

4. Who do you think is your audience for this book? And what do you expect readers to learn from your book?

The book isn’t for any person in particular – in fact, I hope anyone can see themselves somewhere in some of the universally human experiences of the book. No matter how dressed up in whimsy or magic, grief, mourning, disappointment, rejection, awkwardness – these are just realities of life.

I suppose, someone might enjoy the book if they are ready to laugh a bit at their own, or at least my, expense. Or for someone looking for some quick reads, some microstories. It also works as an inappropriate alternative to a children’s fairytale. And goes really well on top of that stack of magazines and crosswords in the bathroom.

5. How long did it take you to write this book?

Hm – two years? Although it was two years to produce the raw manuscript, followed by another year of editorial loving and finessing.

6. Where can we buy one?

Rumour has it that it’s available on Amazon, and that it will also be carried in a number of other stores including Type Books in Toronto. The final list of stores isn’t out quite yet, but there will also be some advance copies available at the upcoming launch on September 25th, 2014.

It can also be bought through the publisher, Guernica Editions, at their upcoming group launch of authors later this fall.

7.  What’s next in your career as an artist?

It all depends on where circumstances take me I suppose. Co-organizing the book launch and artists exhibition with the ladies of Woman King Collective really brought back a love of curating, something I haven’t had a chance to do as much of since my undergrad.

I’ve been talking to a few small business owners as well, trying to see about the possibilities of using spaces like café walls as affordable gallery options. And I’m also continuing accessibility and inclusion work, and have been offering some free workshops on those subjects. The idea of marrying those two passions is maybe one of those dreamy, down-the-line options, but hey, so was publishing a book!

Congratulations Kayla on this terrific accomplishment! You can meet Kayla at her upcoming book launch and exhibition on September 25th, 2014, 6pm to 9pm.

Hope you can make it!

politics of being ugly-cover

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