Contributor Spotlight: Donna Minkowitz

Headshot of Donna Minkowitz

Donna Minkowitz’s essays Magic Puppet: On Writing Golem” and “Tender” are featured in Issue 77 of the Bellingham Review

What would you like to share with our readers about the work you contributed to the Bellingham Review?

Something I’ve often thought about as a writer is the “undepictability” of abuse, or perhaps I should say the difficulty it presents for readers. If trauma is defined as “unbearable” experience, how can we make readers bear it in our writing?

Both my pieces in this issue confront this problem.

My memoir Growing Up Golem, which “Magic Puppet” discusses, is written as though, instead of giving birth to me, my mother had created me as her own personal golem servant. One reason I chose to use a fantastical concept in the book is that it’s sometimes hard to read about traumatic experiences full-on — because trauma by its very nature pushes human beings away, making both participants and observers unwilling to look. Using fantasy gives the reader a little bit of a reprieve, and thus may make it easier for them to be present with my experience.

By using fantasy, I also hoped to share with the reader the surreal way I myself experienced these things as a child.

One final reason I chose to use fantastical elements is that I also experience several of my disabilities (also depicted in Growing Up Golem) as surreal or “fantastical.” The Complex Regional Pain Syndrome I’ve had in my hands and upper body for 18 years sometimes makes me feel like a Frankenstein monster, cobbled together out of many unpredictable, weird parts, or some kind of cyborg, dependent as I am on voice dictation software to write.

Tell us about your writing life.

I have been writing for 40 years, going from poetry to New Journalism at the Village Voice and elsewhere, to memoir. One question that has often emerged in my writing is whether our psychic damages can also confer some gifts or benefits on us.

I also seem to believe strongly in writing simultaneously about politics (I’ve been reporting a lot lately on the white nationalist movement), intense personal exploration, and pleasure (in the past three years, I’ve been writing about food, hoping to bring a lyric sensibility to the sense of taste and to the emotional experience of paying to be “hosted,” e.g. in restaurants).

What is your favorite book (or essay, poem, short story)? Favorite writers?

Keats, Tolkien, Rich, Alexander Chee, Nalo Hopkinson.

What project(s) are you working on now, or next?

More reporting on white nationalism (including a personal essay called “In a Van with Nazis,”) more food writing, and another memoir.

Where can our readers connect with you online?

Twitter @Minkowitz


Read more of Donna’s work here.

DONNA MINKOWITZ‘s magical realist memoir, Growing Up Golem, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and for the Judy Grahn Nonfiction Award. Her first memoir, Ferocious Romance: What My Encounters with the Right Taught Me about Sex, God, and Fury, about being a lesbian journalist who went undercover with the Christian right, won a Lammy and was shortlisted for the Quality Paperback Book Club’s New Visions Award “for the most promising or distinctive work by a new writer.” A former columnist for the Village Voice, she’s also written for the New York Times Book Review, Slate, The Nation, Tablet, and Salon, and currently reports on the white nationalist movement. She has taught memoir writing independently for 20 years, currently in the Hudson Valley.

Featured Image: “Cyborg” by DelScorchoSauce