Donna Minkowitz (’85) on Poetry, Prose and Everything in Between


"...Anyone who devotes themselves to writing becomes

part of a brotherhood and sisterhood, a kind of

"river of writing" that connects us all."

Donna Minkowitz is an author, journalist, and teacher. Her books include "Ferocious Romance: What My Encounters with the Right Taught Me About Sex, God, and Fury" (1998) and "Growing Up Golem: How I Survived My Mother, Brooklyn, and Some Really Bad Dates" (2013). We asked Donna to tell us what got her started as a writer, as well as what keeps her going.

How did you get started? When/how did you know that you wanted to pursue writing?

I started writing as a preteen (poetry), and got serious about poetry until I switched to prose sometime in college and especially after I left. For me, prose was more about transformation and change (someone goes from point A to point B), and poetry about individual moments. I discovered I needed to explore prose in order to be able to write the work I wanted to write. I started writing for the Village Voice soon after I left college, starting out by writing book reviews for another alum who had become an editor there. I decided to work as a freelance copy editor at the Voice so I could hang out in the office and talk up editors. Eventually, I became the Voice's main columnist and reporter on LGBT politics and culture and also wrote personal essays for the paper on topics like violence, sex, and freedom. I wound up spending seven years there, in the process learning how to write New Journalism. Years later, I realize that my professors in the Literature department at Yale and my Village Voice editor, Richard Goldstein, were my main teachers of writing.

Eventually, I wrote a lot of New Journalism, especially about my experiences going undercover with the Christian right, and went on to also write for Salon, The Nation, and the New York Times Book Review. Along the way, I got interested in doing writing that was more "officially" literary, and wrote two memoirs. My first, Ferocious Romance, is about how I realized I had a great deal in common with the antigay, antifeminist Christian right activists I was reporting on, despite the fact that I was frightened of them and opposed them politically. Growing Up Golem is a more personal memoir about learning how to become an independent adult after I had grown up basically under my mother's thumb.

Were you involved in the arts/literary scene at Yale?

I was involved in a small way in the literary scene at Yale. I had some poems published in student literary magazines, was part of readings, and had some essays on LGBT identity and politics published in the Yale Daily News.

What is your favorite book? What are you reading right now?

My favorite book is Lord of the Rings, which I think is actually a far greater literary work than most other people think! :-) Right now I am reading Capital in the 21st Century by the French economist Thomas Piketty, and the Chinese science-fiction novel Death's End by Cixin Liu.

What current projects are you working on?

I'm working on two main current projects. In the past three years, I've begun doing food writing, which I have always wanted to try because it can be so sensual and lyrical, almost like lyric poetry. I am the food and restaurant critic for Gay City News, New York's LGBT paper.

I've also been writing and doing research on the growth of the white nationalist movement in this country, which I think is a frightening development.

Finally, I am laying the groundwork for writing the first novel I've ever attempted, which will be about marriage! :-)

In pursuing your passion, have you taken on secondary jobs? If so, which was the most interesting?

I started teaching memoir writing mainly as a way of earning money, but I eventually became passionate about it. Teaching memoir writing to my students makes me feel more connected to my craft, and more connected to writing as a community endeavor that can connect all of us – basically, anyone who devotes themselves to writing becomes part of a brotherhood and sisterhood, a kind of "river of writing" that connects us all.

If you could meet one author, alive or dead, who would it be?

John Keats. He's the most beautiful author I've ever read, and I think he'd be one of the nicest ones to talk to.

Have you always been or plan to be based in NYC?

I was always based in NYC until this past January, but my wife and I moved a little bit out of the city, to Beacon, New York this past winter to take advantage of easier housing prices and better access to starry night skies! Though I grew up here and I've always loved New York, the city has also changed dramatically from the city I grew up in in the 70s. It's far more focused on wealth than it was 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. Although the city is still dynamic and beautiful, rent reform would go a long way toward making the city more attractive for all kinds of working artists, and more sustainable for young creative people.

What is you best advice for recent grads?

Find what you're passionate about and do it. Make space for it in your life, even if you must do many other things to support yourself financially. Get support and stimulation for this thing you're passionate about by going to meetings, readings, and all kinds of gatherings for people who also do it.

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