Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (Seattle) is the award-winning author of a memoir and three novels, the editor of five nonfiction anthologies, and a 2018 Artist Trust Fellowship recipient. Her memoir, The End of San Francisco, won a Lambda Literary Award, and her previous title, Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?, was an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book. Her latest novel, Sketchtasy, was one of NPR’s Best Books of 2018.
We interviewed Mattilda about her relationship with risk and with Artist Trust, and her vision for Washington State. Learn more about Mattilda and her work.
How did you first find out about Artist Trust? What was compelling to you about the work of Artist Trust?
I first found out about Artist Trust when I saw other writers receiving grants. When I looked into Artist Trust, I was delighted to find an organization in my neighborhood dedicated to supporting Washington State artists over the course of their careers.
What has Artist Trust support meant to you? In addition to funding, how has the AT community been meaningful or beneficial to you, and to other Washington State artists?
Receiving the Artist Trust Fellowship helped me to move temporarily to Baltimore to work on a new book, Touching the Art, about my relationship with my grandmother, a visual artist from Baltimore. I wanted to immerse myself in the city where she lived, in order to track down people who knew her, but also to see what else would come through. There were so many things I learned on that trip that I would never have learned otherwise, and this allowed me to deepen the analysis in the book, and opened more windows into all the directions I want to investigate.
This spring, we’re focusing on the role of risk in artistic practice. What has risk meant to you?
I often say that I write in order to stay alive. This is more than a rhetorical gesture, it’s a strategy that has worked. In order to become a writer, I had to flee the path of educational attainment and upward mobility that I knew would destroy me. I needed to find other radical outsider queers, artists, activists, freaks, dropouts, incest survivors, anarchists, and other visionary thinkers dedicated to creating a world on our own terms. So this meant risking everything. And, it’s where I’ve learned everything. Everything that I need in order to stay alive.
What do you need to be able to take risks in your practice?
I need to live somewhere that nourishes me. Of course, this may be impossible, given the world we are all living in, so then I need to find the people, places, and spaces that can allow me to imagine this nourishment anyway. Maybe it’s the trees, we do have such beautiful trees in Seattle, right? And, of course, the more security I have in terms of housing, healthcare, relationships that heal, the more risk becomes a sustained possibility and not just a desperate act.
How does support from Artist Trust and other organizations/communities make risk possible for you?
The Fellowship I received from Artist Trust helped me to embark on a risky undertaking, to move cross-country to a city where I’d never lived, in order to immerse myself in my writing process. It helped to ground me financially so that I could roam creatively.
What are your hopes for the future of artists in Washington State?
I want artists in Washington State to take more risks, to make work that is bolder and more intersectional, that challenges the violence of the status quo and demands accountability for structural, intimate, familial, and interpersonal damage. Work that is challenging not just politically, but formally and expressively.
What would you say to someone who is considering a gift to Artist Trust?
If you’re looking for an organization that supports Washington State artists in creating work on their own terms, developing a sustainable artistic practice, and working autonomously with rigor and passion, this is the place.
Washington State artists like Mattilda depend on taking risks, but making the jump requires a strong safety net. That’s where we can make a difference. Join our spring fundraising campaign now and support the future of artists across Washington State.