Interview with Kennedy Bailey

Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: In “The People Who Find You,” we’re intrigued by the brutal honesty with which Reagan grapples with her sister’s suicide. For example, the first line of the piece is, “The most annoying part of my sister’s suicide was that she chose to do it on her birthday.” Can you tell us why you chose to portray grief in this straightforward, jarring manner?

Kennedy Bailey: I am really interested in how, for many of us in many cultures, we separate ourselves from the processing of death. Death is something that happens “somewhere else,” like in a hospital room. One-hundred years ago, loved ones would die in the home, and their bodies would be cared for post-mortem by close family. But now, much of the after-life care and connection is outsourced. I think that, because of this, death does seem straightforward and jarring—a person is in our world, and then they are removed from it by people we don’t know and likely won’t meet.

I wanted to confront and highlight this dissonance in the grieving process. I wanted Reagan to struggle with her misplaced feelings—how do we make peace with the things we leave unsaid? What does it look like when those unresolved feelings need somewhere to go?

RR: Reagan’s blunt tone throughout the piece is borderline comical; however, her tone shifts as she experiences the fallout following her sister’s suicide, and she seems to express more vulnerability. Can you talk about how you approached tone, especially considering the subject?

KB: I feel like girls/women/femmes are often tasked with shoulding the emotional labor of comforting and caring for others, even when they are also experiencing tragedy or hardship. I wanted Reagan’s experience to be liberated from those expectations. Grief can be an ugly emotion, and I didn’t want Reagan to have any interest in lessening those feelings to prevent her family’s (or the reader’s) discomfort.

RR: Can you tell us about the process of developing and balancing Reagan’s candid attitude with her grieving process?

KB: It was not important to me that Reagan’s grief was easy to swallow. I feel like we don’t often give women, in real life and in fiction, the freedom to be unpalatable. I wanted to explore a woman whose anger was tough to aestheticize—Reagan is not “in her villian era,” so to speak. We can begin with the raw, ugly feelings, and we can flesh out where they come from as she grows a little distance from what was inarguably a traumatizing experience. The core of this story was incredibly personal to me, because I firmly believe that I have never been angrier than I was at my dearly-loved grandfather’s funeral. Instead of allowing myself to grieve the way my body and mind wanted to, I spent so much time focused on my composure and how to best make other well-meaning mourners more comfortable (or, at the very least, not uncomfortable). But what if we allowed ourselves the space to feel the full breadth of our emotions? Is that something we can tolerate, especially in a young woman? I wanted to honor this anger, and also humanize the reasons behind it. Anger and grief are not scary; they’re just part of the spectrum of emotions that we tend to be uncomfortable with.

RR: Does your professional career influence the way you write characters in your fiction?

KB: I view my “day job” professional self and my writing as separate personas, and I don’t think they’d necessarily share a coffee anytime soon!

RR: Are there any writers you’ve felt to be influential to your work, especially in their approach to the heavy topics you explore such as suicide and trauma?

KB: I really admire authors who can create a well developed, deeply unlikable woman character that an audience can really grapple with. For this reason, I think I draw a lot of narrative inspiration from Kristen Arnett (Mostly Dead Things, With Teeth) and Rachel Yoder (Night Bitch)—not necessarily about suicide or trauma, but about capturing the raw ugliness of emotions that we often socialize girls/women/femmes to mask in an effort to make our voices more suitable for public consumption.


Read “The People Who Find You” by Kennedy Bailey in Issue 11.2