Lizette Wanzer: Making Every Word Count

“Of prime importance to me is work that discomfits, contemplates, balances scene and summary, and delivers a flavorful punch in the process. My goal is to hobble and stagger the expectations of lenses through which I, as an African American woman writer, am frequently viewed,” writes Lizette Wanzer in her artist’s statement.

Based in San Francisco, Lizette just completed a six-week inaugural residency at VCCA. She is currently working on two projects: Gelatin Prints, a collection of flash fiction, and Jaywalking, a collection of short essays. Lizette moves deftly between fiction and non-fiction, deciding in advance which direction she intends to pursue and then runs with it.

Flash fiction is a style of narrative that is extremely short. There is no set word limit, but it generally hovers around 1,000 words or less. Flash fiction is known by many terms including my favorite: “smoke long” because the story takes as long to read as it does to smoke a cigarette. Though the form goes back to prehistory, one of the earliest uses of the term “Flash Fiction” was the 1992 anthology Flash Fiction: Seventy-Two Very Short Stories edited by Tom Hazuka, Denise Thomas and James Thomas.

Lizette’s particular interest is language. She coaxes as much as she possibly can from every single word. “If you’re writing flash, the words have to carry more weight and each word has to advance the story. You don’t have time for a lot of exposition, or meandering. That’s what makes it a good discipline.”

It’s a similar approach to poetry, and the lines between flash fiction and poetry are somewhat blurred. A good example of this is Carolyn Forché’s stunning The Colonel. Initially published in 1981 as a poem, it has subsequently been included in at least one flash fiction anthology.

More so than poetry, flash fiction requires a narrative of sorts, to draw the reader in. Lizette relishes the challenge of writing flash fiction. Its increasing widespread appeal nowadays is no surprise given how compromised our attention spans have become thanks to the Internet.

Lizette’s essays are autobiographical. “Sometimes people think they’re poetry, sometimes they think they are prose poems. But they’re hybrid, composite and nonlinear essays. Not your typical essays.”
In addition to her short works, Lizette also writes regular fiction and is currently working on one long extended essay. According to Lizette the essay is about “the politics of black natural hairstyles, and is called Twisted. An excerpt appeared in the August 2014 issue of the Guernica literary journal.”

Interestingly, Lizette regards Salvador Dali, Rob Gonsalves, and M.C. Escher—visual artists who played so fast and loose with concepts like space and gravity as mentors, saying: “My stories give substance to space, validating my own attempts to gain triumph over tumult.”


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