Miranda July

Q&A: Miranda July

An interview with the writer/artist, who brings her Lost Child to AT&T Performing Arts Center on Friday. Just don't call it a performance.

published Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Photo: Todd Cole
Miranda July

DallasMiranda July is the epitome of the multi-hyphenate artist. Performance Artist-Writer-Digital Media Maven-Singer/Songwriter-All Around Master of the Trade. One of the busiest people in the performing arts world, but, you still might be unfamiliar with her. But not for much longer. Once you get your hands on July’s debut novel, The First Bad Man, you won’t want to put it down, because you might see a little bit of yourself in main character. Once you watch her directorial debut Me and You and Everyone We Know, a quiet film full of confidence and the magic of falling in love, you’ll be hooked on July’s handle on humanity.

Or maybe, you’ll find a place within her earlier work—zines and a series of wild, dramatic plays first staged a punk club in Berkeley, her first EP for Kill Rock Stars, Margie Ruskie Stops Time (1996), or other audio pieces that she recorded during the height of the Riot Grrrl culture of the Pacific Northwest in the late ‘90s. Perhaps, you’ve seen her perform at a museum, even.

What makes her work so strong and able to resonate with so many people—both new and old fans—is her ability to live between the lines of reality and fantasy so beautifully and seamlessly. July has discovered the key to truly inhabiting a performance; she lives within each of her characters and each of her characters live within her. To be so flexible between worlds, July has trained herself through daily meditation, rigid self-discipline, and a demanding schedule that requires her to constantly questions every movement she makes and the ones that go on around her.

We interviewed her as she prepares to come to Dallas for the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s #hearhere series. July will speak at the Winspear Opera House at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 8.


How did you first get started in performance? And when did you find yourself transitioning to other mediums, like film and literature?

My first play was based on a correspondence with a prisoner; I staged it at the local punk club when I was 17. I thought of it as a “live movie,” I wanted to be a filmmaker. And gradually I did start to make short movies, in my 20s, but I never stopped performing; I realized they were good for different things. Once I was a little bit established in both these mediums I began to try to write fiction in earnest. I grew up with writer/publisher parents so I don’t think writing felt rebellious enough at first. But in truth it’s what I knew most about. 


Is your relationship with live performance different than your relationship with film or with literature?

Yes, in part because it’s not a commercial medium (or at least not for me), and so few people ultimately see my performances. So when I set out to make something live it’s an entirely private world and I do it without much of a context—no agent, no money, no expectations. In times when I’ve felt overly self-conscious I’ve headed towards performance to simply orient myself again.


What built the foundation for your connection to music?

To be clear I’m not a musician. The albums I recorded in my 20s are performance recordings—pieces that I performed live but also recreated in a studio, with musicians accompanying me. I was surrounded by bands at this time and having an album was the thing to do. But I love this part of performance and filmmaking—it’s like an allowed trick that makes everything better. You don’t get that with a book.


When you write short stories, is there a set process of research and preparation or does each story dictate its own process? What inspires you to write?

I haven’t written a short story in a long time, but most of my ideas, in all mediums, come in an instant and then they either stay interesting (rarely) or they prove themselves to be unready or unfit for the long road to becoming something. I should be clear that this “instant” is proceeded by years of conscious and unconscious interest in something. So after I write the initial idea down I usually think “Oh right, that thing has been hanging around for years, I’ve just never let it come directly into view.”


The outsider aesthetic and “amateurism” seem to be a strong influencer in your work. What first drew you these ideas or techniques? I hesitate to use the term “technique” because it carries a heavy weight of professionalism and pretention: how would you describe your mode of working?

I think because I’m self-taught, I didn’t come into any of these mediums with a big devotion to professionalism. To some degree this also has to do with sexism—I was never going to feel like an “insider” as a filmmaker, because it’s such a male club. And then, like all artists, I’m always trying to figure out how to come at the medium in a new way, without worrying about what’s good or bad.


Both in terms of works and process, what roles do routine and ritual play in your art?

I suppose I have the routine of working every day, for as long as I can. That’s just discipline. But beyond that, the rituals change—a type of meditation, or tea, or music. Every ritual lasts for about a month and then it becomes a problem.


Have many people been turned off by your work? How would you describe their reaction?

I haven’t had the experience of someone coming up to me to tell me they don’t like my work. I don’t think people do that—if they’re the kind of people who get excited by not liking someone’s work then they write an Amazon review or Tweet about it. I could go read these and try to summarize but that seems like time spent unwisely. Nothing is everyone’s cup of tea, but I feel lucky to have a diverse audience that supports me on this curvy path.


Much of your work focuses on interactions with strangers. How does Lost Child fit into your repertoire?

Lost Child is an autobiographical presentation about my work. I try to share pieces that people might be unfamiliar with, and to share the process and my thinking at the time. There is a bit of audience interactivity, by way of explaining this part of my work. But it should not be regarded as a performance—it’s just me sharing my work in a way that is hopefully not boring. 


What are you currently reading? What are you currently watching?

I finished a book of short stories called Man and Wife, by Katie Chase that I recommend. Jowita Bydlowska (Drunk Mom) has a novel coming out that is unput-downable. I’m not watching a lot because it revs me up too much to sleep. I’m having trouble being energetic at the right times these days. Thanks For Reading

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Q&A: Miranda July
An interview with the writer/artist, who brings her Lost Child to AT&T Performing Arts Center on Friday. Just don't call it a performance.
by Danielle Georgiou

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