1. You have a multinational background (owning dual citizenship to Switzerland and Australia) and have lived in Australia, England, Switzerland, Germany, and Egypt, as well as having spent time in Spain and the United States. How have these places informed your personal concept of home? Where do you feel most at home?
I find the concept of home to be very much a German one, what with the word ‘Heimat’ that we have; it is much stronger and fraught with more meaning. In Switzerland we even have a ‘Heimatort’, which is listed next to one’s place of birth in Swiss passports. It is the place where your ancestors come from, the municipality obliged to take care of you if you should ever end up with no one else to do so. My ‘Heimatort’ is a tiny village in the rural Canton of Appenzell Outer-Rhodes; a place I’ve never been to. Then there’s home sickness, of course, which used to be called the Swiss illness, ‘mal du Suisse’, because it frequently occurred amongst Swiss mercenaries. And yet I wouldn’t call Switzerland home, as I wouldn’t call Australia home. Lake Zurich, perhaps, in summer with my friends, before going out for a meal and drinks by the river. Or sitting under Harbour Bridge in Sydney with my daily mocha from the Italian barista with the very curly black hair and steel blue eyes. My bunk bed in Berlin and the smell of coffee and cigarettes coming from the kitchen, where my flatmate has just lit a Camel off the gas stove. That same flatmate’s new home, his garden with the perfect lawn, in Johannesburg, South Africa. The tiny terrace overlooking the Atlantic Ocean where my ex-boyfriend and I watched four month’s worth of rapid equatorial sunsets and wrote and fought and ate and made love. To me, home is people, is being recognized, even if it’s just a daily greeting from someone working in a café.
2. You work as a translator, a writer, a playwright. Which profession do you most identify with, and which brings you the most joy?
It’s language that brings me joy, which is why I do the work that I do: all of it is about language, about telling or re-telling a story, even when the work is corporate and I’m doing it because the cash is better. I feel very lucky to be able to do so, because it’s one of the most important and oldest processes known to humankind: A campfire, a couple of people, and a tale being told. I am also very aware that I’m unable to do much else, as I simply lack the skills—which is usually my answer when anyone asks me why I became a writer: Because it’s the only thing I can do.
3. You were invited to New York to be a part of Festival Neue Literatur 2017. The festival theme this year is Queer as Volk. As queer people face a hazardous political climate both in the U.S. and abroad, hearing stories of and by the LGBTQ community is crucial. What are your thoughts on queer authors and the importance of having their voices heard both on a domestic and an international stage?
I think this question just answered itself: It is crucial. Yet I think it’s not because we’re talking about the LGBTQ community, but much rather because we are talking about a minority. It is crucial that all minorities get their stories heard. It was Mahatma Ghandi who said that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members, that is, its minorities. But to be treated, to be regarded at all, minorities need to be heard.
4. Your debut novel, Lange Nächte Tag, explores the story of two young men who fall in love just as one of them receives a positive HIV diagnosis. How did the idea for this novel develop? Did you always want to write a love story?
The novel is actually a second attempt at the topic. The book started out as a failed stage play which I wrote some years earlier. It wasn’t very good, the topic was too big for me, and the play was never produced. What had sparked it was an article in ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine about gay bareback sex parties that were popping up at the end of the Nineties for the purpose of exchanging the virus. The positive men called themselves Gift Givers, while the negative ones were Bug Chasers. The great Ruth Schweikert, who would later become my mentor, also wrote about this phenomenon in her short story ‘Christmas’ in the book Erdnüsse. Totschlagen. At the time, I knew no one who was openly positive, and I simply could not get my head around the concept of wanting the virus, of wanting to be infected. Not understanding something, asking yourself, what if, is often a great motor for writing, but as I said, it was all too big for me. Until I fell in love with someone who infected himself during our open relationship. Suddenly the topic became personal. I asked myself, what if I had it too? And I knew I had to give it all another shot.
5. Have you ever been to New York City before? If yes, how has it changed since your last stay? If not, how do you like it?
I have, but I stayed in Brooklyn at the time and only went into Manhattan to see all the tourist spots and visit the museums and galleries. Brooklyn, or the part where I stayed in, is very young and hip, while I find Manhattan much more mixed both in terms of people as well as regarding the urban landscape, the distinctness of the different neighborhoods. I’m enjoying it a lot, just strolling around, soaking up the life, the hustle and bustle, finding places from books such as Patti Smith’s Just Kids or Tom Spanbauer’s I Loved You More, which I’m currently reading—all the spots important to so many exponents of queer art.
6. Do you have concrete plans for how you would like to spend your residency in New York? Will you take advantage of the cultural scene or do you plan on focusing on your writing and working on some future project?
The day after Festival Neue Literatur ends, I’m flying to Chicago for Literaturlenz, another German literary festival, and I’ll be reading in various places in the Midwest. And then my residency will be all but over. Looking back, I have to admit that I didn’t do as many cultural activities as I had planned to, but I did get in a couple of plays and movies, among them ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ about and with texts by James Baldwin, read by Samuel L. Jackson and directed by Raoul Peck—an absolute must see. I usually spent my mornings writing and the afternoons walking around or catching up with friends from Australia and Egypt who live in New York now. Then of course there’s the shopping and the nightlife, the food and the men. But I’ll spare you the details on all that.