Kaya Oakes is the cofounder of Kitchen Sink Magazine, which received the Utne Independent Press Award for Best New Magazine in 2003. Currently a writing instructor at the University of California, Berkeley, she has written music journalism, film and book reviews, and wrote a column on comics for Viz Comics’ Manga Vizion. Her collection of poetry, Telegraph, received the Transcontinental Poetry Prize from Pavement Saw Press, and her poems have appeared in more than thirty journals and magazines. She has received writing awards from the Academy of American Poets and teaching fellowships from the Bay Area Writing Project and the Mellon Faculty Institute.
Where are you from?
I was born at Alta Bates Hospital, which is located on Ashby Avenue in Berkeley, California. My parents lived about a mile west of the hospital in Oakland, California, which is where I grew up when we weren't going on epic, cross country road trips in our 1971 VW Van. I'm the fourth of five kids, and a fourth generation native of the Bay Area. I lived briefly in Olympia and Seattle during college, but other than that I've lived in Oakland for my entire life. Favorite things about Oakland: the people, Lake Merritt, Cole Coffee, The Parkway Theater (where you can have pizza and beer during the movie and sit on a couch), the history, taco trucks, dim sum, the view of the port of Oakland from the train (the cranes were the inspiration for the Imperial Walkers in Star Wars).
Who are your favorite writers?
Writing in two genres (nonfiction and poetry) means my list is a little schizo, but most writers are. With nonfiction, I'm a fan of Mike Davis, Jeff Chang, Joan Didion, Barbara Ehrenreich, James Baldwin, Naomi Klein, and Greil Marcus. With poetry, I always turn back to John Donne, Paul Celan, Shakespeare, Keats, Byron, Frank O'Hara and Allen Ginsberg.
Which book/books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
How much time do we have? A shortish list, and I'll inevitably forget crucial titles: Jeff Chang: Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation. Greil Marcus: Mystery Train. Frank O'Hara: Meditations in an Emergency. Mike Davis: City of Quartz. Joan Didon: The White Album. Aaron Cometbus: Cometbus. Daniel Clowes: Ghost World. Jaime and Gilbert Hernanadez: Love and Rockets. Don DeLillo: White Noise. Can we talk about albums? The Minutemen: Double Nickels on the Dime. Fugazi: Repeater. Mission of Burma: VS. Operation Ivy: Energy. Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited. Neil Young: On the Beach. Leonard Cohen: Songs from a Room. Prince: Sign O' The Times. The Pogues: Rum, Sodomy and the Lash. Willie Nelson: The Redheaded Stranger. X: Wild Gift.
What are your hobbies and outside interests?
For many years, I trained as a classical cellist and also picked up the electric bass (it was the 90s, and every band had to have a girl bassist). Music is a huge part of my life: I'm constantly listening to music, thinking about music, and I teach a class about music in contemporary culture. I like watching terrible TV and good movies, going to plays (I'm a Shakespeare geek), going to poetry readings, browsing bookstores, reading magazines, comics, novels, blogs - I'm always reading, even when I'm brushing my teeth. I'm also a gifted baker. Seriously, when friends move away my baked goods are one of their most missed things about the Bay Area.
What is your favorite quote?
"To live outside the law, you must be honest"-Bob Dylan
What is the question most commonly asked by your readers? What is the answer?
I'm not sure about readers, but my students always want to know how old I am. I can't decide if that's a compliment or an insult.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was a collection of poetry called Telegraph that came out in 2007. I started writing it in 1997 as a graduate student, and tinkered with revisions and new poems until it was accepted for publication in 2006. Slanted and Enchanted was researched, written and edited in less than a year. I think this goes to show that I am slow to be inspired as a poet, but as a prose writer I have verbal diarrhea, which my editor sadly found out.
Where do you write?
Usually on the sofa, though I bought an ergonomic chair this year. It's nowhere near as comfortable as the sofa. I write best when I am at home, with a cat or two nearby, and snacks and beverages close at hand.