Carmen Maria Machado
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Ent Center for the Arts, 5225 N. Nevada Ave.
A book about Clara Barton, the famous nurse from the Civil War who wanted to be a doctor, but couldn’t because she was a woman, was the first time Carmen Maria Machado stumbled up against misogyny and what it meant to be a feminist.
“I read it and thought ‘what? What?’” said Machado. “I must have been 8 or 9. I asked my parents about it. Does it happen anymore? My dad said women can be doctors. My mom said men still tell women what they can and cannot do.”
Machado’s 2017 debut short-story collection, “Her Body and Other Parties,” was a finalist for the National Book Award, as well as the winner of multiple awards and prizes. The website Vulture described the book as an assortment of “queer, feminist ghost stories.” The New York Times called it one of “15 remarkable books by women that are shaping the way we read and write fiction in the 21st century.”
A new memoir, “In the Dream House,” recounts the mental and physical abuse Machado suffered at the hands of her ex-girlfriend. It’s set for release in November.
The author and essayist will address the topic of moral beauty and how can our way of living be lovely during her Converge Lecture Series appearance. Though she’s still forming thoughts on the question, she’ll likely swirl around how to honor the body and find a balance between selfishness and selflessness.
Deciphering her own methods of inhabiting her body and letting others know how to interact with it came at a fairly young age for the writer.
“I made goals for myself in terms of sex, my fatness and eating,” she said. “You’re always trying to figure out how to be in your body. It is a part of peace and service. You can’t exist in the world if you hate yourself so badly that you can’t function.”
Machado is known for the feminist-rich tone to her work, though that doesn’t correlate with uber-positive feelings about the country’s current view of women. She calls herself pessimistic, though she acknowledges today’s environment is undeniably better than it was two decades ago.
“The idea that men have no reason to give up their power,” she said. “There’s no amount of finagling, and nothing we can do to prove or mediate it. They want what they want. And we can fight it and have tiny victories, and in 20 years it’ll be easier to be a women. We hate women too much and we don’t have the cultural capacity to handle that. As a country we can’t even grapple with slavery. We’re incapable of doing it.”
It’s inevitable that attitude seeps into her work.
“When I sit down and write, what comes out is kind of a bummer, which is fine,” she said. “I don’t think of my work as funny, but I’ve been told it’s funny. There is humor to it that is levity. It helps it like sparkling water — the lightness that helps you swallow it.”