To their surprise, Lev Keltner writes as self-actualization. If you know them or their work, you may be nodding and smiling and saying, “Sounds about right.”
Lev, from Chicago and residing in St. Louis, is chapbooks editor at Newfound and author of the novel Goodnight. Their stories and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Passages North, Peach Mag, [PANK], Anomaly, Hobart, Entropy Magazine, and elsewhere, and they’ve been nominated for Best of the Net. They also write role-playing games at Feverdream Games.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about Lev’s writing and editing—including how their identities as nonbinary, trans, bi, queer, and poly influence the writing and editing—so we got to chatting about their ever-evolving relationship with the literary world.
Todd Wellman: What have you learned about writing since you won the 2019 Eric Hoffer Award for Goodnight?
Lev Keltner: Many things! Like, it’s great if I take longer than 3 years on a book and how to allow a piece to mature through as many revisions as it takes to conceptualize its place in contemporary conversations. Or, describing a character’s entire thought process isn’t necessary—say A and C, and readers will enjoy dreaming B. Also: I should be familiar with the press before signing a contract.
What I’ve learned most is how to write as a personal practice. Have you heard writers say that if a line isn’t making its writer laugh or cry, then how can they expect readers to? Similarly, if I’m not learning about myself and/or the world while writing a story, then the work will be inert, lacking personal, political, and existential weight. In short: no manufactured, literary epiphanies. That’s taken writing closely to my personal life, toppling the border between fiction and non.
TW: You’ve published in multiple genres. How have different genres allowed you to explore different questions?
LK: It’s likely it all works toward the big question: In what ways do I contribute to making a mess of everyday life for myself and others? My position to the question shifts in each genre. My poetry is mostly subconscious babble and “free” association shaped by conscious thought, sometimes revealing the dimensions of the box of my mind. Flash allows me to reflect on my everyday experiences—the fears, comforts, and insights—and maybe to notice a through line I can call “myself.” Novels allow me to tease out more abstract problems, tangles in relationship webs, or, like parallel realities, to glimpse potential futures along courses of action/states of being.
Thinking of ordering Goodnight? Remember to care for our literary ecosystem by patronizing a store or library that supports local communities. Read more here.
TW: When you reflect on your years of work with Newound, what do you wish more people knew?
LK: How absolutely brilliant our chapbook authors are. Collectively, I would generalize their work as vulnerable, socially engaged, formally varied, smart, and playful. These books aren’t warmups for a full-length. They are powerful self-contained statements of being. Their work activates Newfound’s mission, exploring how place shapes imagination, identity, and understanding.
Also: Subscribing to any of our chapbook series is cheaper than buying single copies, especially considering the number of chapbooks we’re publishing these days without raising the annual subscription fee.
TW: For your current and next writing, what characters want you to write them? What traits, struggles, and celebrations might get to the page?
LK: Looking back, my work appears to be a race toward the present—having written about the proto-identities of junior high in Goodnight, being nearly finished with a second novel about finding oneself as queer and poly, and publishing my recent flash work about living a truer trans-feminine reality.
A gullible reader, I’m even surprised to learn that I’ve been writing as self-actualization. All my work explores gender, as well as what it means “to be in relationship with” other people, and I’m curious to write about folx living and thriving in polyamorous relationships.
This interview has been edited for clarity. I’ve volunteered for Newfound as a writer and reader and consultant for years. Read more about my nonfiction writing here.