Acutely perceptive and penetratingly clever, Michelle Orange’s essays are to be both inhaled and absorbed. Her collection, This Is Running for Your Life, was recently published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It was praised by the likes of Meghan Daum, Stephen Elliott, and Philip Lopate, who called her “smart, sophisticated, and quirky . . . an original voice that uncannily captures the broodings and shadings of a generation.” Orange is a master at revealing the personal in subjects that can seem removed—The Middle East, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, death, retirement, technology. And, as she says in the opening essay, “Moving at a pace that is not just fast—we’ve been fast—but erratic and discontinuous makes defining a self against some shared sense of time untenable,” she helps her readers define a further sense of self. Orange grew up in Ontario, Canada and is a native of the indie lit community. She is a founding editor of The Rumpus. Her first title, The Sicily Papers, was published by Hobart’s Short Flight/Long Drive books in 2006. Her fiction, essays, criticism, and journalism have appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review and McSweeney’s among many others, as well as larger venues such as The New York Times, The Village Voice, and The Nation. Ms. Orange corresponded with Abby Koski via email over a period of weeks, while she was traveling.
Abby Koski, Wag’s Revue: The essays in This Is Running For Your Life cover an expanse of topics; can you talk about the importance of having interests and curiosities that extend beyond one field or subject matter?
Michelle Orange: Most writing but criticism especially seems enhanced by the depth and breadth of perspective a writer brings to any one discipline or format. The criticism that appeals most to me—from writers like Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Nicholson Baker, Susan Sontag, Vivian Gornick—has a sense of a writer’s engagement with art as an extension of her engagement with the world. There’s nothing hermetic or sealed off about it. Ideally if a critic is passionate about her subject it opens up all sorts of avenues in her.