Interview with Allyn Aglaïa: “My best writing days drift on for weeks.”

Allyn Aglaïa is a multidisciplinary writer, artist, scholar, and curator, whose primary focus is exploring the power of love as a force for liberation, healing, and redemption.

Their work has been published in various prestigious publications such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, Guernica, and The Atlantic. They are also a photographer and their art photographs have been exhibited internationally and published widely.

Allyn is currently studying in the Division of Philosophy, Art and Critical Thought at the European Graduate School and toward a masters in Theology // Knowledge, Art and Interiority at Sinclètica Monastic School. They are a 2022 Coolidge Fellow at Auburn Seminary and the Association for Public Religion and Intellectual Life.

In this interview, we had the pleasure of speaking with Allyn about their writing process, which incorporates multiple modalities such as listening to photographs and feeling sound. They also talked about their experiences with residencies, including their own one in Lagos, and how they have impacted their writing career.

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Hi Allyn! We’re delighted to have you as a guest on Famous Writing Routines. For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, could you please give us a brief introduction to yourself?

Thank you for the invitation! I love to think about writing. 

My name is Allyn Aglaïa, I am a writer, artist, curator, scholar and editor in Paris. 

Can you talk about how you incorporate multiple modalities, such as listening to photographs and feeling sound, into your writing?

I’ve thought about the development of my ((written/etc.)) voice as a process of liberation: allowing myself to experience the world the way I do, protecting my self from voices or influences who say I should be or write or see or think otherwise (not better–I appreciate feedback that sees what I’m reaching for and feeds me on that path, but before I found that I was often in spaces that didn’t have room for my way of being so I had to protect my self from the pressure to re-configure to fit into a place that I shouldn’t.) And then in the safe incubation spaces I made, finding language/text/syntax/form that is centered in my ways of seeing, feeling, sensing, being. So I suppose the palpability and sentience I reference when I say listening to photographs or feeling sound lives in my text; text being, to me, as intimate and nude as breath. 

I like that you use the word incorporate, it’s one I’m thinking a lot about these days. Incorporation from the Latin incorporātiō, which also means embodiment. So to in-corporate is to bring into one’s body; and then thinking of corpus as both body and text ((and a body of texts)). I certainly experience text in an embodied way, and I think about a self as being made through incorporation, this is how we are made of each other, through, of course, language.

You’ve had numerous residences awarded to you, including Playa, Ucross Foundation and Est-Nord-Est Art Residency. Can you talk more about your experience with residencies and their impact on your writing career? 

All the residencies I have been blessed with so far have been key periods of incubation and transformation for me, even Est-Nord-Est which I had to cancel at the last moment. Each opened a portal or doorway toward my becoming, a mirror toward more authenticity.

After Ucross, which was so incredibly potent, I knew I wasn’t finished with the re-stitching that was beginning and so I booked a tiny casita at the edge of a beautiful villa in Merida, México, and stayed indoors for another 5 months purging, honing, incorporating, studying, reading, opening, meditating, which led me to finding my new home in Paris.

My first residency, I should note perhaps, was a Changbox residency, awarded by a friend of mine, the artist Rutherford Chang. When he traveled he would let creative friends stay in his beautiful, tripper “box” in Chinatown; my stays there were similarly transformative. I stayed there once while undergoing bioenergetic psychoanalysis 4 days per week and speaking to no one as past lives flitted in dense clouds over the East River.

In Berlin, another friend shared his home called Skylight and impromptu creative happenings occurred when a magical Mauritanian diva and her band drifted through and crossed with my friend a sound artist from London who was in Berlin at the fringes of another residency at the time; he played windchimes while the Mauritanians listlessly needled the oud; I made images. These moments are in my body/voice/sub/text, whether I was writing or not. 

At Ucross I finished the first draft of my first book, a mystical bildungsroman in fragments, and on the last day my printed manuscript dropped as we were loading the car. “Are there page numbers?” One of the artists asked aghast as the feuilles drifted in the breeze. “Of course not,” I said laughing, “but I think Pedro Paramo was written in the same method.”

I’d love to learn more about your house in Lagos and how it grew into an informal residency and intentional community? Can you speak on that? 

I had a vision for that space that I kind of ruthlessly, silently pursued without telling anyone that’s what I was doing. The house was in Yaba, a neighborhood I had always loved in Lagos: creative, historic, layered, familial, with a distant view of the lagoon.

The flat was the top floor of a tropical modernist four story building, the tallest on the block, and we had the whole floor so it was this beautiful, spacious, open space that slowly became very potent, with a palpably different sense of time within it.

Sensitive people felt it right away, all the growth and openings and development that happened there, communally and alone. I was both deeply solitary and deeply social at the time and the architecture of the space gave ample room for both. There were three bedrooms in the house, a magnificent writing room where one could feel utterly alone in the sky, while listening to life click and clack below, a massive salon for gathering/reading/eating/massaging, and a wide terrace with a garden in pots.

I had one more permanent roommate, and the other bedroom became a welcoming space for brilliant scholars, researchers, artists, healers, psychologists, herbalists who would come to Lagos for a month or six or nine, so there was a creative turn over in the house and the alchemy of the different combinations of people nourished very varied happenings. 

When I left I gave the whole house away. I searched for young artists who could feel what it was, invited them to stay and eventually turned over the lease, leaving all my furniture and library in the hands of beautiful beings who watered the plants until they became a small jungle. 

How does your background in art history and curation inform your writing and creative process?

Some texts drift like the light Ignasi Aballi made play across the walls of the Spanish Pavilion in Venice this year when he rearranged a floor he had found to be tilted. Some sentences smudge like Alexey Titarenko’s City of Shadows.

Some day I’ll write a text as, or, maybe it must be photographed, or, actually I wrote once a concept note for a curatorial installation infused with the unutterable quiet of Teju Cole’s looking ((Cole being another being who speaks/makes gracefully across worlds; his fluency in multiplicity was very influential to me at a stage in my development.))

I feel well fed, I think, is how the two relate.

Also, an influential mentor once told me: //writers make the best curators, you know.//

What does a typical writing day in your life look like? 

My best writing days drift on for weeks. It feels like a current; all my attention is bound to the text, it’s being written whatever I’m doing, as I walk through the city all I see is what is coming, text in clouds I walk into and pull from the sky. It’s a beautiful obsession and it displaces time. 

Otherwise, I write every day, whether it be morning pages for clearing, hupomnemata to gather my polyphony and my personal logos, critical texts, philosophical meditations or creative work. I spend my early mornings cleansing my mouth, body, flat, mind; I meditate, then I spend the morning with my self: writing, or, reading, or following my taste. Drifting is also very important.  

How do you balance your various projects and studies as a writer, artist, scholar, and curator?

Hilton Als wrote that Apichatpong Weerasethakul is our poet-cineaste of dislocation. I wrote on Derrida as a poet-philosopher; I love him and also study mysticism and later came across a paper on the mysticism embedded in Derrida’s textual philosophy. I deeply respect the worlds of each of my practices, their history and depths.

Somehow having several feels like being polyglot in the way that languages open/contain/create/inscribe worlds.  Finding my way to which canon is my own in each modality, and building a personal canon of dreaming poet philosophers across modes feels coherent to me – Saul Leiter, Ibn ‘Arabi, Ocean Vuong, Avital Ronell and Chantal Akerman may know nothing of one another, but they make perfect sense together inside me.

More practically : I work to make sure I have a container for each of my practices in my life and schedule. When I find collaborators I resonate with I try to build routines, gatherings, projects for us to build together because I find immense meaning in my work and I know that working together is a key way I maintain and build relationships.

I know what I’m growing/incubating in each of my expressions, and sometimes one practice asks for a rest phase while I grow, so it may be less active but is still incubating and fed by my other projects. Sometimes my various modalities speak to each other and sometimes they don’t and both feel important. Sometimes my art writing wanders into poetics, and sometimes I put my photography with a liminally related text. And sometimes I deep dive into philosophy that makes no mention of art, and that is equally essential.

My favorite relations between the modes are less didactic and more embedded. I believe who we are infuses (and is made by) everything we do, even if it’s unspoken, so there’s immense richness that comes from building different aspects of our selves. And lastly, my personal practices deeply inform my curation and editing work, which are deeply relational. 

What does your writing workspace look like?


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