Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Tucker Leighty-Phillips

by Nancy Au Read the Story March 25, 2019

What inspired this gorgeous piece? Was this taken from a loss that happened in your life, or were you imagining into a world and space that was new to you?

I think it’s a little of both. I’ve been unintentionally writing a lot of stories recently that all grapple with loss, or maybe absence is a better word. How do we cope with someone leaving, or with someone having never been there in the first place? A lot of my stories revolve around the threat of absence and I think I’m just a very people-oriented person so that becomes a natural source of tension in a lot of my work. I also just recently moved across the country, so I’ve been thinking about how my relationships are put under scrutiny by such a big life change.

Your use of language is exquisite, so deft and lyrical. Do you also write poetry? What other forms of writing, in addition to flash fiction, do you enjoy and practice?

Thank you so much! The impostor syndrome hits me so hard when I read poetry and read tight, powerful flash fiction. I’ve written a little poetry, but I usually just end up letting those pieces flounder in the Notes app on my phone. Flash and short fiction has always been my preferred form to exist in, but I’ve been using the last twelve months to really challenge myself and try to write stories over two thousand words. I’m also really fascinated by story cycles and would love to replicate that form eventually as a sort of “compromise” between where I feel comfortable and uncomfortable.

When I run my finger along the edges of my writing desk, I would find tiny pillows of dog fur, sticky rings from countless mugs of ginger tea, and bright orange Cheez-It dust. If you were to walk through your own home, what does the dust of your life taste and smell like?

Dog fur, ginger tea, and Cheez-It dust sounds fantastic, and isn’t too far off from what mine would be if my landlord allowed me to have a dog! Since I’m still fairly new to Arizona, I think the dust of my life is still very caked in sweat, but is very much comprised of lime seltzer, coffee rings, and nutritional yeast. I just recently got into baking, so I’ve been making lots of cookies, which leaves a mess of flour everywhere, as I am very clumsy and there’s a reason that I don’t often do detail-oriented tasks.

Your bio mentions that you are an MFA candidate at Arizona State University. Go Sun Devils! What has been one of your favorite writing or learning experiences while studying at ASU?

I’m actually just finishing my first semester, so I’m still very fresh to the ASU experience. However, there have been so many great experiences. My cohort has been fantastic and I’m feeling so challenged by everyone’s diverse, fantastic work. The MFA has been a process significant in learning as well as unlearning. I’m trying to be very conscientious of what a privilege it is to be in my position. There was a significant period of my life where I never foresaw a bachelor’s degree in my future, nevertheless a master’s. I’m just trying to be inclusive, remain self-aware, and build community where I can. But I did learn what a haboob was (by way of trial-by-fire) on my second day in Arizona!

About the Author:

Tucker Leighty-Phillips is a first-year MFA student at Arizona State University. His work (fiction or otherwise) has appeared in Whiskeypaper, Lunch Ticket, Maudlin House, and others. He is an associate fiction editor at Hayden's Ferry Review. You can find him on social media (twitter, Instagram) at @TheNurtureBoy.

About the Interviewer:

Nancy Au is a writer and teacher based in Oakland, California. Her fiction, essays, and poetry appear in SmokeLong Quarterly, Catapult, Lunch Ticket, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Pinch, Tahoma Literary Review, Foglifter, Forge Literary Magazine, among many others. She has an MFA from San Francisco State University where she taught creative writing. With Dr. Matthew Cover (California State University Stanislaus), she co-designed and co-teaches BIOL-4040 Writing for Science and Life. In this writing course, Nancy incorporates creative exercises to assist students in crafting unique personal statements for graduate school, fellowships, and job applications. With Carson Beker, she co-founded The Escapery, a writing and art unschool. Nancy was awarded The Vestal Review’s 2018 VERA Flash Fiction Prize, and her work is included in the Best Small Fictions 2018 anthology. Her full-length collection, Spider Love Song & Other Stories, is forthcoming from Acre Books (University of Cincinnati) in Fall 2019.

About the Artist:

Paul Bilger's photography has appeared at Qarrtsiluni, Brevity, and Kompresja. His work has also been featured on music releases by Dead Voices on Air and Autistici. When not taking pictures, he is a lecturer in philosophy and film theory at Chatham University. He is the art director at SmokeLong Quarterly.