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An Interview with Jen Soriano, author of NERVOUS


Jen Soriano (she/they) is a Filipinx writer and movement builder who has long worked at the intersection of grassroots organizing, narrative strategy, and art-driven social change. Jen is the author of Nervous: Essays on Heritage and Healing, which was recognized by TIME, GLAMOUR, The Atlantic, Poets&Writers, and other outlets as a notable book of 2023. Jen is author of the chapbook Making the Tongue Dry and co-editor of Closer to Liberation: A Pina/xy Activist Anthology, and their work has won the International Literary Award for Creative Nonfiction and the Fugue Prose Prize, as well as fellowships from Hugo House, Vermont Studio Center, Artist Trust, and the Jack Jones Literary Arts Retreat. They received a BA in History and Science from Harvard and an MFA in fiction and nonfiction from the Rainier Writing Workshop. Jen is also a co-founder and former board chair of the cultural democracy institutions, MediaJustice and ReFrame, and is a leader in the field of narrative justice. Originally from a landlocked part of the Chicago area, Jen now lives with her family in Seattle, near the Duwamish River and the Salish Sea.

You can buy NERVOUS here!

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

As soon as I could handwrite, I was writing in my diary, then journals, and eventually I started writing (terrible) short stories in elementary school. So I think I’ve always had the urge to write. As far as deciding I wanted to do creative writing more seriously, that didn’t come until much more recently. I would say that the birth of my child is what influenced me to write for publication. When he was born, I took the opportunity to shift my work life to make room for more creativity.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I’ve worked as a typist/transcriber, waitress, banquet server, barista, and seller of expensive pens. As far as careers go, I’ve helped start two national nonprodits, and for the past 15 years I’ve been a nonprofit consultant specializing in narrative strategy development and communications capacity building for social change organizations.

Most of my readers don’t know that as a teenager I wanted to be an opera singer, and I especially wanted to sing Wagner (I was a broody and dramatic teen).

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

It was easy to find because it came from my body, in other words it was a somatic decision. As I write in my introduction, I’ve always been a nervous person. I wanted to lead with that because I know there are many of us who feel the same, many of us actually have anxiety, and I wanted to normalize that as a logical reaction to the troubled world we live in. I also liked the double meaning of us being made up of nerves. We all have nervous systems, or we wouldn’t be here, and that governing system that enervates our whole bodies and beings is a universal that makes us all nervous.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

I was overjoyed when I first saw the cover. It was glorious and splashy, and I loved that a book that’s about trauma, that could be dismissed as a Debbie Downers collection of wet blanket essays, had a skin that celebrated the dynamism and radiance of inheritance and resilience that I try to explore in the book.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

“River” by Ibeyi

“Run” by Kimmortal

“Love Letter” by Klassy

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

That we carry history in our bodies, and that can give us strength and resilience inherited from our ancestors, but that many of us also need to heal from traumatic histories. The good news is our nervous systems and our bodies are fluid, and we can transform trauma over time. It takes communities and societies organized around care to support healing not just on the individual level, but on a wider scale.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

Connecting with readers who have said it has made them feel that they are not alone and supported them on their own healing journeys. I find it incredibly rewarding when readers are moved to the point of sharing their own stories with me.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I’m working on a novel, a hybrid book that blends poetry, nonfiction, and science fiction, and another essay collection that is less memoir and more of a mix of pop culture writing and philosophy.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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