“I never wanted to be a safe writer”: Interview with Hillary Leftwich

Jessica Walsh (JW) interviews Hillary Leftwich (HL) about Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock, an intense and lyrically agile collection newly published by the Haunted Doll House imprint of Agape Editions. Ghost Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock is now available for purchase.

JW: The title of this collection is Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock. I want to talk about those ghosts. Throughout the book, pieces move in and out of a conventional reality. Elements that might be termed supernatural meet with details from our mundane daily lives. Why is the world beyond our world so integral to your work?

HL:I’m so glad you asked me this question and that this was something that you took notice of. The supernatural world has always impacted my life, so this extends into my writing. The occult, the spirit realm, all these are an important part of my life today and have been since I was a child. The book speaks a lot about my observations as a witness to both myself and others around me in our daily lives as humans, but I also take notice of the crossover of the supernatural in our lives that others may not be so quick to see. When something is so ingrained as a ritual in your daily life, it will show up in your writing, whether you realize it or not, right? But it’s my hope that others will not only notice the supernatural occurrences happening all around us but also, outside of this, of their own rituals they may not be aware of.

JW: I was struck by how many pieces in this book walk right up to the edge and then step a toe over it. Scenes mingling sex and violence, moments of imminent and inevitable death at the hands of another, animal slaughter—the speakers in Ghosts are provocative and unapologetic. What creative space were you able to access through these speakers that might have otherwise felt unreachable?

HL: One of my absolute favorite writers is Ai Ogawa. She was the primary mentor from the other world (she passed away several years ago) through her writing, which showed me how to take on that other voice and use it to write what is often brutal and unapologetic. I never wanted to be a safe writer or a writer that writes to a certain audience. I’d much rather write something uncomfortable that opens a reader to examining past reactions and perhaps gets them thinking again but with a different lens. Ai Ogawa did this throughout her writing career; I am grateful and appreciative to her for that. Writing about challenging topics isn’t always easy, but it is necessary.

JW: Tell me about the final page of the collection, which simply reads, “Who’s there?”

HL: Since the beginning of the book starts with “Knock, Knock,” my friend and fellow author Steven Dunn suggested ending the novel with “Who’s there?” as a way to close the collection. I thought it was such a great idea!

JW: Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock contains several original illustrations. Can you talk about how these images interact with your work and how they were selected?

HL: Fox Henry Frazier took the time and energy to photograph and create those beautiful images to accompany the work. I think the amplification of words alongside these images really brings the text to a whole other level, and I am so grateful to her for her artistic eye and creativity. We easily agreed on everything and where to place them, which was a wonderful experience.

JW: What are you working on now? What projects lie ahead for you?

HL: Currently, I’m working on a lyric essay collection (hermit crab) about sexual assault and spaces within a woman’s body—how these spaces act and occupy within trauma. It’s my most experimental work-in-progress that I’ve attempted to tackle yet, and I’m both intimidated and excited about it.

Hillary Leftwich is the author of three books: Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock (Agape Editions, 2023), Aura, a Memoir (Future Tense Books, 2022), and the forthcoming chapbook Saint Dymphna’s Playbook. She owns Alchemy Author Services & Writing Workshop and Community Coven. She is a professional Tarot reader and teaches Tarot and Tarot-writing workshops focusing on strengthening divination abilities and writing. She lives in Denver with her partner, son, and their cat, Larry.

Jessica L. Walsh is the blog mistress for Agape Editions. She is the author of Book of Gods and Grudges as well as two other collections.

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