Smile Politely

The queen’s in town: PygLit hosts Kim Chinquee

It’s no secret that Pygmalion has been host to royalty of all types. From up-and-coming musicians to well-known artists, there’s never a lack of interesting and talented people who contribute to every part of the festival. This year’s Pyg Lit Fest will be no different, as it will feature its first appearance of writer Kim Chinquee. Known for her flash fiction (pieces that are usually a few hundred words or less), she is regularly published by literary magazines such as Noon, Denver Quarterly, Conjunctions, and over a hundred other anthologies and journals. On top of being the senior editor for New World Writing, she has also published collections of her own short stories, including Oh Baby, Pretty, and Pistol. A future short fiction collection titled Milk will be published by Ravenna Press in 2017. Smile Politely got the opportunity to find out about Kim’s style, her workshop roots, and her observations on writing prior to her appearance this week. 

Smile Politely: Various sources have called you the “Queen of Flash.” How has your status as a flash fiction writer affected your other genres of work?

Kim Chinquee: I came upon writing flash fiction in Mary Robison’s graduate workshop at USM’s Center for Writers. It was never my intention to write flash fiction, but I grew to love the form, and appreciate what I learned by cutting, and how that can change a piece. In general, it’s taught me to take greater risks when writing longer work.

SP: How would you characterize the style of writing you aim to put on the page? 

KC: I never aim for a particular style. I just try to be true to my characters and to the page.

SP: Since this is your first time reading at Pygmalion, what are your expectations? How do you usually present at a venue?

KC: I was a student of the inaugural U of I MFA writing class in 2002, was part of the birth of Ninth Letter, and was the first student to graduate from the program, so it’s an honor to return as a reader, with Jean Thompson. She was the first person I met in Champaign. I’m thrilled to be a part.

In presenting, I try to engage as if I’m letting my listeners into a dream. And hopefully a dream they can follow, and one that fascinates.

SP: What is your main concern when writing a piece?

KC: Sensory details, being present in a scene. Standing in each character’s shoes. Compassion, complexity, menace. I guess I don’t have one main concern. I just try to write with depth and honesty and maybe humor, if it feels right. I try to imagine being the reader, and where the piece may be lacking.

SP: Which story of yours did you enjoy writing the most and why? Do you ever draw upon your personal life?

KC: Can’t really say I enjoyed writing one over the other. I mostly just enjoy what I’m currently writing, and it’s more work than enjoyment. I probably enjoyed writing more when I first started writing, because it really wasn’t work then, nor was it very good and I didn’t have the skills to know how to fine-tune it. I do enjoy trying to bring humor into a piece, but that’s probably not my strongest skill. Sometimes writing, at least for me, is the most grueling thing and I’d rather hoe the yard and clean my kitchen cabinets.

In some ways I draw upon my personal life: I grew up on a dairy farm, was in the Air Force, worked in the medical field, was a stand-in cop. Am a mom. Those experiences and the places I know show up in my work without my intention. But not always. To me it’s more about the art and it’s fun to make stuff up.That’s what’s so great about fiction.

Kim Chinquee will present at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts Colwell Playhouse (500 S. Goodwin, Urbana). The free event will start at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, and include a reading by Jean Thompson. For more information on Kim and her writing, visit her official website

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