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Talking with Audrey Olivero

Audrey Olivero is a Puerto Rican essayist and short fiction writer from New York. Her work has been featured in Longreads and Dovecote Magazine. She has named every single pigeon she’s ever met.

Audrey’s essay “How a Marvel Movie Taught Me to Live in My Own Skin” appears in the Fall 2019 issue of Carve. Order your copy here.

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In "How a Marvel Movie Taught Me to Live in My Own Skin," you explore your relationship with a comic book character to better understand and express the emotions that have compounded over your lifetime. At what point did you think this story was on track, and how many versions did it go through before it was selected for publication in Carve?

Some version of this essay has existed since Logan was released in theaters, so the (adamantium) bones of it have been around since 2017, but it's only recently, after sending out a draft that felt done in the way that something you can't keep fixing forever is done, and getting some editorial questions from you, that what I really needed to complete it clicked. Once I understood that there was so much more (too much for an essay) to unpack about the way I felt about race and culture depicted in and excluded from comic books, it felt whole. Until then, it was like I was ignoring an entire facet of my identity to avoid a fight with a medium I loved. But Jack Kirby, a Jewish man who set the foundation for the comic book universe we know today, upended the notion of the Aryan Übermensch, called him Captain America, had the character sock Hitler in the jaw in full color across newsstands all over the country, and lived ready to fight Nazis in the flesh—in 1941. So really, my scrap with the medium is just a small offering.

One thing we love about this essay is its unvarnished view of both personal reflection and societal expectations. Are there any other writer's you looked to for inspiration when you started this essay, or was this essay personal enough and rooted in the movie enough that it came naturally from a single image, idea, or feeling?

I think I actually owe teen girls and queer people coming into themselves on the early internet way more than I owe a single literary figure for getting me through this inspirationally. The internet was and is a lot of garbage, but it's also this huge hub for marginalized people with shared interests around the world—and it was probably some brave as fuck teens writing fanfiction or trading comics against the backdrop of white supremacy's re-emergence online that made it so much easier to bridge the personal to the text and back to society. When someone tells you who their favorite superheroes are, they're telling you an intimate story about themselves and their journey—the personal, societal, and fictional always intersect that way for me.

What books or writers have had an impact on you in the last couple of years?

Oh man, too many? Marie-Helene Bertino's Safe As Houses made me want to write again. Ocean Vuong's On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous and Hanif Abdurraqib's They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us wrecked me on the sentence level. Bassey Ikpi, Tommy Orange, Alexander Chee, and Nicole Chung all found ways to teach me on the long train rides home from work. Is that too many? Is it possible to have too many heroes?