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Friday, July 8, 2011

Feminism and Science Fiction Meet in Anna North's America Pacifica

Posted By on Fri, Jul 8, 2011 at 3:32 PM

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Anna North is the rare author who can satisfy an audience with an interview alone. Instead of delivering awkward silences and absentmindedly shuffling papers, North gives specific answers to specific questions and full, illuminating responses to general ones.

She must spend a lot of time alone. Or not. North, who appeared at Booksmith last night, is a staff writer for Jezebel, which means she's not just out in the woods outlining the subtleties of character names. Producing numerous posts on a daily basis for the pop feminist site takes a certain kind of connectedness too many novelists lack.

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North read from her debut novel America Pacifica, a work of science fiction, to a Booksmith packed with more people than chairs. At first North read in a controlled rush, something reminiscent of a junior-high-school public speaking exercise, which detracted from her on-the-page style. Later, though, she read with greater ease and personality. Regardless of her delivery, the written words illustrate a fantastical, terrifying, and smelly world with mysterious activity that made us want to read more. Put succinctly by one attendant, "It's like it's alive."

In the interview, North said she remembers distinctly when and where she got the idea for America Pacifica -- it was in 2006 while viewing the show "Remote Viewing: Invented Worlds in Painting and Drawing" at the St. Louis Museum of Art. She was drawn to text by Ben Marcus that envisioned a person's investigation of his own disappearance. She started writing on the airplane ride home. After rewrites, editing, and graduation from the Iowa Writers Workshop, North boiled America Pacifica down to the story of protagonist Darcy investigating the disappearance of her mother in a postapocalyptic dystopia. Through this premise, North touches on themes of revolution, feminism, class, and ecology.

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North reported that the name "Darcy" comes from a run-in with a real-life Darcy in Arizona who scoffed at the way North was drinking: "Oh, do you drink cider from a straw where you come from?" the woman snapped.

In Arizona, the words "where you come from" are aimed at people from the South, hardly North's region (no pun intended). Most people might have forgotten or ignored this exchange, yet North, a born writer, remembers the comment enough to name her lead after that strange soul.

North writes for a feminist publication, and has now written a serious, literary novel boasting a clear female voice and many important female characters. Such things should not be rare, nor should they be "things," but unfortunately they are. North says she wrote a lot of female characters because she's a woman. She admits this may be a little chauvinistic, but insists that her writing -- in fiction and for Jezebel -- is informed by things that interest her rather than some agenda. This includes being interested in women, how women can be powerful, and how women can become heroes.

Fortunately, North's novel isn't something that should be picked up to support a cause. It's something that should be read because it's a well written and intriguing book. Oh, and there's a comic teaser by Cole Weathers that is absolutely fantastic.

North lives in Brooklyn now, but is still in town. Check out her work Saturday (July 9) at Writers with Drinks at the Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St. (at Mission). It starts at 7:30 p.m.; admission is $5-$10.

For more events this week and beyond, check out our calendar section.

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Stephanie Echeveste

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