Saturday, April 17, 2021

Q&A with Courtney Zoffness



Photo by Hannah Cohen


Courtney Zoffness is the author of the new book Spilt Milk. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and The Southern Review. She lives in Brooklyn.



Q: What inspired you to write Spilt Milk, and over how long a period did you write it?


A: This book was born out of motherhood. I'm a fiction writer and was working on fiction projects, but childbirth and parenthood proved so intense and profound that I found myself wanting to explore certain experiences in nonfiction.


There are a few sections that I composed nearly a decade ago, when I was pregnant with my firstborn, but the bulk of these pages were written and edited over the last four years. 


Q: The author Ben Marcus writes of the book, "Courtney Zoffness traces the dizzying conflict faced by parents—the daily ricochet between burden and joy—and, with a sharply lyric voice, discovers hidden connections between this domestic struggle and the larger cultural and political winds shifting around us.” What do you think of that assessment?


A: I think Ben's quote captures much of my intent, and I'm flattered by his words; I adore his work!


I'm equal parts fascinated by and nervous for all that my sons are assimilating, not only at home from their imperfect parents, but from the wider world: embedded messages about white supremacy and privilege and masculinity. I reckon with these larger forces in Spilt Milk and consider what, if any, interference I can run as their mother.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The phrase "spilt milk" comes from the idiom "There's no use crying over spilt milk." To me, the words evoke parenthood and childhood, but also accidents.


I've even seen the expression used in media outlets by folks who oppose the Black Lives Matter movement. The spirit of those comments is something like "slavery ended 150+ years ago, it's spilt milk, stop crying." In other words: get over it.


I think, though, that the past is essential to understanding the present and informing the future, and this book considers trespasses small and large, from personal regrets to the Holocaust. We have so much to learn from milk that's spilt.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I hope readers will spend time meditating on questions I pose about what we inherit and what we pass on, not just biologically, but culturally and spiritually. I also hope they'll think more about empathy and how to cultivate it.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: To be honest, I'm working on teaching three college classes, mothering two children, and promoting one book—all during a pandemic! But I plan to dig back into fiction when I come up for air. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Only that I'm grateful to you for spending time with the book. Thank you!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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