Pushcart Darlings: The Foglifter Interview with Kay Ulanday Barrett

by Jan 18, 2018Interviews

As part of celebrating Foglifter’s recent Pushcart nominees, we interviewed the writers! Here is Kay Ulanday Barrett.

Foglifter : What are you currently reading?

Kay Ulanday Barrett : Right now, I am super into: Emergent Strategy, Adrienne Marie Brown’s book, The Next American Revolution by Grace Lee Boggs, the chapbook Nostalgia & Borders by Sonia Guiñansaca, and a newly released anthology of Transgender poetry out now via Sibling Rivalry Press called Subject to Change— I’m in it and it’s real cute.

F : Are you working on a project, currently? Describe it.

L : I am currently working on a workshop series meant to go in-depth about being an artist on tour. I want to help develop discourse on what happens beyond the page, once you share your work with the world. As someone who has toured for over a decade, say 35+ venues/events annually, I want for Queer, Non-Binary, and Transgender of Color writers and poets to have supportive models to sustain their work on the road and make work outside the individual writing practice engaging, socially responsible, and sustainable. I’m hoping to work with other Trans People of Color for the materials on this hella soon! Additionally, I’m continuously co-curating Mouth-to-Mouth Showcase a project that features migrant, refugee, and QTPOC writers of all genres at the Asian American Writers Workshop with Sonia Guiñansaca. I’m honored to uplift art that might push back on literary canon and also embrace interdisciplinary or multi-genre perspectives. Finally, I’m in this steady pace of working on my next poetry manuscript. I’m 60-65 pages in and I love the process of refining, re-thinking, and fusing the pieces into a larger curated work. It’s a scruffy book, still trying to make its way into a good shape for the world.

F : Do you have a particular writing ritual or habit? What is it?

K : My body and chronic pain are unpredictable. Based on this haphazard existence, I try to get into writing ritual even if it is simply studying poems or watching performances and applying 1-2 skills into a new piece. I am definitely someone who tries to write morning pages at least 3 times a week. I sometimes treat writing sessions like dates and wear something marvelous, listen to music that makes my hips swish, and dedicate myself to a 45 minute check in to see if what I am doing is working. If so, if the chemistry is there, I can write for a sick amount of time for as long as my hands let me.

F : What do you believe is the role of the poet/writer in this cultural climate?

K : From early on, it was my understanding that to write was a privilege and honor. To make a career of it is even more so a stupendous thing given that I feel like the artists in my family were forced into industries that didn’t celebrate their writer or artist voices. Knowing this kind of inheritance I’ve received, I have consistently felt like I am just trying to carve out some justice, some ease, some salve. I don’t think I am able to write any answers. What I am invested in are spaces where my experiences have been invisibilized. Those are the gaps and hunger pangs I hope to address. I never grew up reading Transgender and Disabled Pilipinx writers. I didn’t know that was a thing. I want it to be a thing. I want for us to have an artistic and writing community as everyday as we keep breathing. This is my particular role. In that, my role is trying to fulfill a dream to find others and archive our existence.

F : What experience thus far has contributed most to your education, as a writer/person?

K : I grew up in the Midwest, in Chicago, where writing is both unquestionably literary and performance based. My mentors and writing circles were dedicated to becoming as politically astute as possible in addition to the rigor of knowing poetry. My education was much like me, inherently unconventional. I loved performing on stage in theater productions and loved writing poems just as much, and it was pivotal for me to have an artistic community that nourished all those callings. In my early twenties, I toured with ensembles, mostly consisting of Queer, Trans, and women of color and learned to write collectively, to generate work in a group setting. From the beginning of the pen to the scrawled revisions on pages, I learned that writing wasn’t essentially as solitary as it is depicted in the mainstream. If I am keen on doing research, studying other art and writing I admire, sharing it with others, and elevating my work, I was never truly alone in my practice. For instance, during the writing of When The Chant Comes I made sure at least four other writers and poets I supremely admired/respected had their hands on my words before even going to an editor for consideration.

F : When you aren’t writing, what are you doing?

K : Eating, cooking something to eat, thinking about eating, watching food videos, passing out from fatigue and wanting to eat something. In my previous life, I must’ve been in the culinary arts or a busy homecook. If I am not on some type of food game, I am obsessively petting my dogs or resting / self-care moving through chronic pain.

F : If someone told you that they want to be a writer, what advice would you give them?

K : Read other people. If the material you are into isn’t available or accessible, find it, make it, dream it, find collaborators and mentors to write the words you were meant to write. Immersion is key. Immerse yourself and know your boundaries; know when to take breaks from all the writing and just have a snack.

F : What does queer mean to you?

K : Queer means everything. Every. Single. Thing. Not so much when it operates from whiteness and I mean, if you’re brown and disabled and gender non-conforming queer, we share this world and I want for us to live. I want for Queer Trans People of Color to live it up so hard and write every one of our stories and songs down that thoughts of death become impossible and if not impossible, than a delicious well-deserved afterlife on our own terms. I want Queer on every word I make. The poor parched throat kicked out queer kid I once was, I want that Queer to feel safe as an adult and I want safety to extend for as long as possible in this universe. Queer means paving work and hope while knowingly being outcast and not the norm and not wanting to be normal and still wanting to be more than alive.


Kay Ulanday Barrett is a poet, performer, and educator, navigating life as a disabled pilipinx amerikan transgender queer in the U.S. with struggle, resistance, and laughter. When The Chant Comes (Topside Heliotrope 2016) is their first collection. K. has been invited to The White House, Princeton University, UC Berkeley, The Lincoln Center, Queens Museum, and The Chicago Historical Society to name a few. They are a fellow of The Home School, Drunken Boat, The Lambda Literary Review. Their contributions are found in PBS News Hour, Lambda Literary Review, The Huffington Post, RaceForward, The Margins, Foglifter, The Deaf Poets Society, Poor Magazine, Fusion.net, Trans Bodies/Trans Selves, Winter Tangerine, Make/Shift, Third Woman Press, The Advocate, and Bitch Magazine.

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