I first met Anna Prushinskaya in the fall of 2012 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She was leading a creative writing workshop at 826michigan, a local non-profit writing center for school-aged children. I was a new student at University of Michigan and a mere guppy of a volunteer, only in her first weeks, at the writing center. The workshop was called “The Almost Automatic Problem Solver,” based on Prushinskaya’s own short story of the same name published in The Sonora Review. I was instantly inspired by her spontaneous creativity, her encouraging teaching manner with the young writers, and her welcoming spirit to all participants.
Prushinskaya’s writing has appeared in The Sonora Review, The Atlantic, Pacific Standard, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. She received an MFA from Brooklyn College-CUNY, has worked as an editor at Joyland Magazine and Electric Literature, and currently serves as Senior Manager of Digital Media at the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor.
Most exciting of all, Prushinskaya’s new book of essays, A Woman is a Woman Until She is a Mother, is just out from MG Press. It’s exquisitely honest. It demands to be read all in one sitting, and I highly recommend you purchase a copy for yourself and all the women in your life. In the following interview, Prushinskaya generously discusses her new collection as well as her experience as a mother, a writer, a woman, and how she connects with all three categories simultaneously.
There seems to be a trend in essay writing right now of playing with format and voice. I see your essays in this collection very much in conversation with that experimental style. How did you first come into your unique essayistic voice?
I started out writing poetry, and I don’t think I ever shook it off!
The first essay in the collection, “Love Letter to Woody Plants,” is set at the University of Michigan at a course entitled Woody Plants. What follows is this beautiful, lush scientific ode to the forest and the need to trust nature and all its uncertainties. What compels you to return again and again to the forest?
I was thankful to sit in on Woody Plants because it was a small window into an area of learning I really didn’t know much about. I loved learning a new vocabulary and accessing a new world of detail with which to approach the woods. I am not sure exactly what it is about going on a walk in the woods, but something about it tends to just help me settle into the moment a little better, most times.
This is a collection deeply rooted in two spaces: one foot is in Michigan, the other in the past Soviet Union. How did your childhood in Uzbekistan influence (or continue to influence) the way that you raise your children today? Is your house a bilingual house?
I came to the U.S. nearly twenty years ago, but my immigration experience continues to be deeply connected to how I think about my identity, and of course it influences how I raise my children just because it’s part of who I am. I speak a little Russian to my kids and hope they pick up enough to be able to learn more when they’re older if they’d like to.
In your opinion, what is the most beautiful word in your native language and why?
Lately while nursing my son at bedtime I have been thinking the word “ворковать” (could be spelled as vorkovat’) which roughly refers to the sounds of conversation between pigeons. My son while he is nursing makes these tiny sounds that for some reason summon this word for me in Russian and no English words. And that translation doesn’t do it justice.
I always feel like my stories and poems are never finished, even when they’re published. Do you feel this way about your essays?
In particular with these essays, I don’t think they can be finished in the sense that they represent an imprint, a moment of motherhood in my life. It’s hard for me not to want to rewrite aspects of them as my thinking or experience changes.
Your essay collection is in many ways a compendium of strong, creative women (Alice Walker, Julia Cameron, Mary Karr, Caroline Henderson, Anne Lamott, Sophia Kruz, Anne Carson, etc.) and the brilliant, wise things they have to say. What draws you to these women in particular and why did you include them in your work?
As much as the book is a documentation of my experience with that birth, that pregnancy, and with first becoming a mother, it is also the documentation of a year of reading in my life. These are the writers and artists who helped me to go through that experience, and the experience of writing that book was so open that I was willing to take leads, go down rabbit holes, and be influenced by a patchwork of recommendations from one writer or artist to another. There are so many more I wish I could have included!
Now that you have two children, would you go back and change or add anything to your essays if you could?
Definitely. I wrote an afterword for the book after my second son was born in time for it to be included. When I re-read the essays, they feel like writing about my first son. While I still resonate with many things in them, I’ve also moved on to a different place. Someone told me that with each baby, a new family is born, and that has definitely been true for me as a mother. With my new son, I felt born into a different mother.
Speaking as a person who would like to be a working mother and writer in the future, I have to ask: how do you find the time to write?
With this book in particular, I felt almost propelled to write. I remember waking up early and not being able to fall asleep again because I wanted to write. And, after my son was born, I often wrote while he was sleeping. Now that I have two young kids, finding time to write can be a bit more of a challenge. I often find myself sneaking in a half a page at five in the morning, and maybe a little bit more after everyone goes to sleep.
Do you have any advice for women who are writers and mothers-to-be? Was there anything that was said to you that was particularly helpful?
I think the most true mom/life advice I have received to date is that everything changes. My kids are still very little but they sure have changed a lot and changed me a lot. I’d also add that the title of the book is ‘a woman is a woman until she is a mother’ in part to reflect that our experiences are our own, are varied, though sometimes others might try to tell us otherwise by placing us into categories like ‘woman’ or ‘mother’ or etc. I’m not sure if there’s advice that is applicable to others somewhere in there, but it is something I’ve thought a lot about, both with respect to my writing and with respect to motherhood.
Lead image: “Beginning and End” by Lindsey Steffes.