Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Devin Kelly

by Karen Craigo Read the Story Read the Story June 18, 2018

There is such a compelling point of view in “The Groundskeeper”. I have to wonder where you got the idea for the story. Did you see something that sparked the idea in you?

I used to work at a cemetery for a couple summers when I was in college, and though I wasn’t a gravedigger, I was always struck by what I would now call the privilege of being able to witness the ways in which people mourned loss. I did a lot of walking between the graves, especially in the late afternoon, and when I was writing this story, I tried to put myself back in that state of mind and live there, in one of those long walks, for a little while.

There’s sort of a Zen mindset at work here in the realization that happens within that frame of praying for sun. How much of a role did philosophy play in the conception of the piece?

I don’t read much Zen philosophy, and it’s been awhile since I’ve read any sort of philosophy, but I really believe that we as humans should honor the ways other humans attempt to bear witness to the various joys and sorrows of this world. You shouldn’t police grief, or anything for that matter, and being at a cemetery taught me that firsthand. I like to think of the groundskeeper in this story as someone lingering in the back of a church, simultaneously moved and strangely giddy at the idea of everything he’s witnessing.

You present such vivid images. I was really energized—even kind of worried for the girl who hopped into the grave. Do you have favorite authors who use scenes like this to great advantage?

After I finished the piece, I read it again, and that part felt like such a Bud Smith thing to do. I love Bud and the way he infuses the real world with a little something wild. Noy Holland, too, is another fiction writer whose writing does that really wonderful work of incorporating a tender kind of strangeness—of language, of scene, of setting.

If you were reincarnated, what kind of next life would you choose?

This is a great question. My first instinct was to say a whale, and my second was to say a horse, but I think I would like to be a river. I think being a fucking river would be so fucking beautiful. Excuse my language. That just excites me.

I don’t care at all about what happens when I’m gone. My family could literally put me out with the trash and I’d be fine with it, provided my bones didn’t terrify the hauler. How would you prefer to be handled, after?

This is also a great question! And my answer, I hope is not too unpopular. As much as I love cemeteries and as much as I understand that where our bodies go when they die is more for the living than the dead, I think humans at this point have a bit of a responsibility to turn to ash. I don’t know if I want my body to take up more space in death than it ever did in life.

I take it from “All the Other Dogs Screaming” that you’re a dog person, unless you’re, like, the greatest fiction writer ever to live. What was your most special dog?

I love dogs. And I’d be remiss not to answer this question by saying that I’ve lived with my roommate Katie’s dog, Rosetta, for about three years now, and have known Rosetta for five. She’s a yellow Lab and corgi mix, and Katie rescued her when she was just a little pup. She’s temperamental, stubborn, high strung, anxious, adorable, and, most of all, strong. And she hates men until men prove that they’re going to be good to her. You’ve got to earn her love, and that’s the best.

Devise a new gambling option that hurts no creature. What should we put our money down on?

What a wild question! I think the world might become a slightly better place if we gathered together maybe a few times a year with our puppies and whatnot, and literally put our money down, and walked away from it, and took the gamble of seeing what kind of joy we could create without the burden of having to pay for that joy. I don’t know what the odds for that are. And I know that isn’t the best answer to your question. But I’d pay what little money I have to see that happen.

About the Author:

Devin Kelly is is the author of the books Blood on Blood (Unknown Press), and In This Quiet Church of Night, I Say Amen (CCM), and the winner of a Best of the Net Prize. He is the Interviews Editor for Full Stop and co-hosts the Dead Rabbits Reading Series in New York City. He works as an afterschool director in Queens, teaches at the City College of New York, and lives in Harlem.

About the Interviewer:

Karen Craigo is the author of the poetry collection No More Milk (Sundress, 2016) and of two forthcoming collections, Passing Through Humansville (Sundress) and Escaped Housewife Tries Hard to Blend In (Tolsun). She is the interviews co-editor for SmokeLong Quarterly.

About the Artist:

Find more photography by Saffu at Unsplash.