By Michael B. Murphy
Speaking before a small group of students and faculty in May Hall last Thursday, author and artist Anna Joy Springer shared passages from her book “The Vicious Red Relic, Love.”
The event began with an introduction from FSU Professor Sam Witt, who described Springer’s work as a “fabulous memoir” that was difficult to categorize.
Witt described the book as a “direct, and yet slippery, … a kind of whispered scream,” which speaks to the reader’s “common vulnerabilities and suppressed joys.”
The “slippery” nature of the book’s prose was hard to explain even for the author herself.
“It’s part memoir, part literary criticism of gender and queer theory. It’s about the nature of self and how the self is made up of stories,” Springer said.
“It’s all over the map,” Springer giggled.
The narrator of the book is named Nina, whom Witt described as a “sometime punk-musician, poet, visual artist, sex worker and student, living in the turbulent and AIDS-ravaged San Francisco in the early and late ’90s,” actually represents Springer herself.
Nina tells he story of how her friend and lover Gil, who was suffering from AIDS and pneumonia, died of a drug overdose.
Incorporating the epic story of Gilgamesh, and the death of his friend Enkidu, to mirror the relationship of Nina and Gil, Springer said the death of Enkidu provided a “tragic prompt” for Gilgamesh, just as Gil’s death prompts Nina into action.
“The book,” Springer said, “pits a battle between the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh and the Sumerian-Akkadian’s Inanna Cycle. My character is sort of looking for the Patriarchy, to find out why her girlfriend killed herself.”
The story serves a second purpose as well, Springer said.
“The book is a time machine in which I send a small aluminum foil elephant back through time, the time it takes you to read the book, to Gil, who is living in the ’90s, before she kills herself.”
The small elephants named Blinky was not only a character in the book, but also a real life object that Springer once had.
Eventually, Springer said she buried the elephant in her backyard. In her book, Blinky is “wadded up and buried in the ground so he can go back in time” to provide comfort for the dying Gil.
This meta-fictional approach to storytelling, Springer said, made “The Vicious Red Relic, Love” a hard book to publish.
Witt told the audience of how hard it is for today’s writers of challenging and unique work to become published.
“There is a bias against intelligent, demanding work in today’s publishing market,” Witt said, but told how “The Vicious Red Relic, Love” was eventually printed by a publisher of experimental books.
Springer ended her presentation with an interactive experience. She presented samples of her upcoming work, explaining that her next story will be written in Rebus form. She said this style is a form of writing composed of “some words and some pictures, but unlike a graphic novel or comics, you have to read the images and turn them into words so you get the whole story.”
The audience then began to read the written text and, when an image came up, tried to describe it in words in order to continue the narrative of the story.
Jenel Liston, a junior, described her time listening to Springer speak as “a really interesting chance to see a published author talk about their work.”
Junior Curtis Emery said, “Anna Joy Springer was awesome. Her writing style and perspective on reality is not only gorgeous, but breeds curiosity as she takes on the challenge of translating her world into the language of the mythic. Her keen sense of how to use multiple forms of media at the same time enriched her reading and the aesthetics of her actual written work.”