The chapbook format needs to be taken more seriously. Desperate by
Alexandrine Ogundimu is only ~50 pages long. It’s super wordy and it
doesn’t contain many blank spaces. Some of the sentences are basically
one entire paragraph. It’s hard to follow (at times) and it doesn’t hold
your hand. There’s a lot to go through and there’s a ton to unpack. Yet,
still… it’s just ~50 pages. And it’s probably one of my favorite
texts of 2021.
Desperate, to me, is unclassifiable. You cannot read Desperate and
walk away from it or forget about it. Desperate is a mirror you forgot
existed and now that you’ve seen what you look like, you can never go
back. You can no longer pretend.
Desperate is a truth and a lie, all at the same time.
I don’t often describe myself because I am not often asked to. The
description on my website
(I couldn’t remember it, I had to check) came about from a kind of
desperation I felt about not being able to define who I was, and so I
chose the most hyperbolic language possible. Looking at it now, it’s a
little embarrassing and juvenile, and I will probably change it. My
identity is currently in flux, as it usually is every couple of years.
Job-wise, I’ve gone from a writer to a paper pusher to a kind of junior
academic in the last five years. I do tend to define myself by my work,
but the older I get the more limiting I find such a definition. My
identity as a queer person (in every conceivable sense of the word) is
also inadequately capacious. So, if I had to define myself, I would say
I’m a queer writer, which wouldn’t answer your question, and I don’t
think I can answer your question at all.
You know, I actually feel like the question has been
answered—believe it or not. And I must add, it’s quite fitting… you
mentioning “desperation.” What exactly is Desperate?
Desperate is an experiment in style that began with my short story
“The End of
published on Nauseated Drive. I thought I happened upon a kind of
coked-out rhythm that was interesting and wanted to see how long I could
stretch it, which turned out to be about 57,000 words written over the
last 14 months, the first section of which was published as Desperate
at a time when I initially thought I had reached the end of the
experiment. The title and cover image came later, courtesy of Philip
Best at Amphetamine Sulphate, who tweaked my original offerings for both
into a better form. For me, the title means that the characters are
making desperate pleas for something, for attention, for love, for
drugs, for whatever. I honestly never inquired after the cover image. It
makes me think of V searching for his inner child, which has gone
missing. That and the grin of pain in the face of oblivion. I like to
think he smiles without joy quite a bit.
I think, mentioning Evangelion, has sort of added a whole other
layer to the work, in a way, especially for those who are familiar with
the series and what it represents (as well as that iconic ending, from
the original show… “Congratulations…”) I’ve noticed—you write
long sentences. Like, really long sentences. Some sentences are an
entire paragraph. Why do this?
Evangelion, especially the ending film I took the title of that story
from, hangs over all my work. I connect my first depressive episode to
watching it for the first time: Something about the end of the world
being tied to the angst of not being known as a teenager has resonated
through the years. As for the sentences, I like how they lay on the
page. There’s something about one thought running into another related
thought that I think benefits from a long sentence instead of being
broken up into a few different ones, and there’s also something about
the rhythm and sound of a long sentence, it’s breathless and I think it
simulates being fucked up, from drugs or otherwise.
I think there is a lot happening, in terms of immersion. Your
explanation for these long sentences makes sense. Something else I
noticed that I thought was a little different: the main character and
another character are only initials. Certain characters are described by
their profession or the kind of drugs they like to do. Why?
Here’s where we get into my weird fetish for interconnected stories and
recurring characters. Before Desperate I wrote a novel where the main
character’s lover called them “V” and I had that character on the brain
when the initial short story came flooding out of me, the vague idea
that perhaps these characters were connected some way, if only by their
shared name. X is called X because V is called V. The other characters
are defined by professions and drugs because I didn’t want a sea of
monikers swarming around the reader’s brain while they’re trying to
process what is already a dense text. Coke Guy is just Coke Guy. He
serves a purpose in the narrative and V sees him in much the same way,
so there’s no need for him to have a name. Same with some of the other
characters, they’re pure utility for better or worse. V is kind of a
bastard like that.
It’s interesting that you mention interconnectedness and recurring
characters. Osamu Tezuka famously brought back characters from previous
stories in a lot of his manga, and this seemed to confuse people. In an
interview, he once likened it to actors in films. Why can’t one
character either re-appear as the same from a previous story or just a
different entity, altogether? Another Japanese creator, Yuichi
Yokoyama—there is a strong emphasis on outward fashion, what each
character is wearing, and the sounds they make as they exist in the
world, so much that very many times, they hardly speak. I bring him up
because each character is always adorned with such elaborate costuming.
I’ve always thought he keeps re-using the same dozen or so characters,
and just keeps changing their outfits. Without their outfits, many of
them just look the same. And I think there’s definitely something to
unpack there. I am also a fan of either non-names for characters (i.e.,
Coke Guy) or super plain names, like Jane or Todd or Conrad. Sam Pink, I
think, is great at doing the whole non-names thing. Speaking of
name-dropping totally random author names into this interview, how do
you feel about comparisons made to other authors? Not just for
yourself… but in this moment, yes, particularly for yourself. For
instance, if I said, “I am getting very strong BEE vibes” because:
a.He is the epigraph;
b.The opening fantasy sequence reads like something from
American Psycho and;
c.There is moment, later in the text that takes place in the
subway—there’s the NYPD, a gun, some sex… violence.
Are these valid comparisons to make? Do you feel it takes away from
the work (when one author is compared to another author)? Is it
necessary for readers to be given some sort of context (in this
instance, in the form of a comparison) or should we be expecting more
from readers by not comparing authors?
What Tezuka said is something I can vibe with. For me it’s part
laziness, but mostly about just not being done with a character just
because that particular narrative I’m working on is done. The people
keep living past the end of the story, and sometimes it’s generative to
dig back in and see where they’re at a year later or ten years earlier.
Comparisons are definitely valid. I’m a huge Ellis fangirl and
apologist. I don’t take much issue with the comparisons and I don’t
think it detracts from the work because I think one way we understand
texts is by comparing them to other texts. The epigraph is there to give
some kind of context for the reader, to give them an impression of the
kind of New York story this is by way of comparison. I don’t blame
readers who make comparisons: If they find they can analyze the text, if
they practice close reading or like to look at texts in isolation,
that’s great, that’s a very fruitful way of reading. But it doesn’t mean
comparisons should be forbidden or that they are a lesser way of
understanding a text, even if part of me would prefer readers to
interact with my writing in a more intuitive fashion.
Epigraphs are truly an underappreciated art form. I have sometimes
spent more time stressing out about an epigraph (or epigraphs) than the
actual content of the work it is being injected into. Like, I will care
more about the part that 90% of the readers will not even read, or
worse… they will read it but not understand the significance and just
think, “huh, cool.” How crazy is that?
I don’t think it’s crazy at all. In fact, I’ve spent plenty of time
agonizing over epigraphs, sometimes before I put a single word of my own
on the page. They can do so much work when it comes to contextualizing
and providing tone and theme in a text, and I can’t help but love the
idea of finding the right quote for the text which follows to be in
conversation with. The fact that most will not read it never even
occurred to me, since as far as I was concerned it was an absolutely
vital element of the story. I chose the Ellis quote because to me this
is very much the New York of American Psycho, 30 years in the future
and from a different point of view, where you’re crushed, sometimes
slowly, sometimes all at once, under the machinery that provides a
grotesquely lavish quality of life for those who have the funds. In my
mind there’s a startup CEO with a pocket full of hedge fund cash and a
wallet full of crypto hacking up and eating sex workers the whole time V
is stumbling from bar to bar, trying to figure out a better way to be.
What genre is Desperate? I am asking this mostly to be a contrarian.
I personally do not like the idea of genres, especially when it comes to
writing. The dreaded “experimental” umbrella bothers me a lot. But if
someone asks that you categorize this book, what do you say?
I too dislike discussions of genre when they get too narrow, so while I
think it could be classified as literary fiction or transgressive
fiction or an addiction narrative or an immigrant story or queer
fiction, I would rather not classify it as anything other than a
novella, a piece of prose between 10,000 and 40,000 words. If pressed I
can slot it into any of those categories I mentioned and have done so,
but that’s a less than ideal categorization. If that’s pretentious,
well, so it is.
I think I can accept classifying a piece of work by its length, rather
than the content. Length is objective and very easy to demarcate. As a
matter of fact, I think telling someone something is a novella offers
more in terms of how long is this thing going to take me to read it
than anything else. It’s almost like you are providing the reader with
an advanced service. “Look, I know you don’t have a lot of time so I
wrote this and made it short because life’s hard and stuff.”
The objective part is what makes it appealing to me. It prevents any
kind of waffling about what the text could be but isn’t, and it just
gets to the heart of what it is, which is this amount of pages
representing this many hours in the life of a character, which is how I
think of literature in general. The shortness of Desperate, I hoped,
would lower the buy in for a lot of people, and get them interested in
reading something longer one day should I get the opportunity to publish
it, but it was also the maximum amount of pages V could spend in New
York without it getting too repetitive or meaningless, which is how I
think of New York anyway, that you spend as much time there as you can
stand and then you’re ejected with little ceremony to some other place.
If that makes it easier for the reader to read then I am both concerned
that the quick, consuming way of being that is New York is infecting
other places and also glad that I could offer them something substantive
to read in the little time that is allotted to them between serving
their corporate masters and caring for their families and themselves.
The main character V leaves one shitty life in Indiana working retail,
to go live another shitty life in New York City to pursue a MFA. V even
says that New York City is “harsh” and he knows this, yet, he is willing
to take the plunge. Tell me about the human condition and some of the
characters in Desperate. While the focus is obviously on V, I kept
feeling like everyone in this text was desperate… and they didn’t even
need to say it out loud. V’s mother, Avery, X, the father, the fat girl
he hooks up with for a brief time, his cohorts, Coke Guy—every single
character is doing something that appears to be some form of escape…
from… I am not exactly sure what.
It could be a dozen different things: Capitalism, the body,
intellectualism, all of those are part of it and it’s all the same
thing. I think they are running from what it means to be alive in the
United States around 2015, when the text begins, a state of being
materially comfortable while also being spiritually and intellectually
dead, even while part of the university. In the case of the black
characters, they’re also, and perhaps most importantly, socially dead.
There is no human condition for V, because he is not a human being. The
setting of New York intensifies all of this. So, V in particular is dead
twice over even while his material needs are cared for, and so he is
constantly searching for a way out of that state of being, a way to be
resurrected, which (spoilers), he does not find by the end of the
novella. That’s why it doesn’t matter if he throws himself in front of
the train or not.
What it means to be a human being. I think we could go even further
with this and look at the different eras and societal expectations from
each. The Nuclear Family. A functioning member/drone who works and
provides a service. The need to always be connected. The repetition…
the daily grind, as it were. There is a particular moment where a word
is repeated over and over, until it morphs into another word, and the
book pauses on this moment for what feels like a substantial amount of
time. (“The mother the mother the mother…motherfucker.”) Can you
discuss this particular moment?
Grinding is apt. I often think of what happened to V in terms of
grinding, crushing, processing, being fed into a machine in order to be
transformed from raw material into something useful or else discarded,
either way losing something while maintaining part of his essence. That
ties into the line you mentioned, a bit of free indirect discourse, as I
think they keep calling it in workshop. The mother doesn’t have a lot of
direct influence but she’s always there in V’s consciousness, and that
crossfades into his own perception of himself as a motherfucker, which
he has become more of since moving to the city. At least I think that’s
what it means. I’m not entirely sure.
I like that the mother is only mentioned a few times and appears not
that frequently. I felt bad for her and V’s summaries of what his mother
was probably thinking, each time they interacted. The father is a
perfect contrast (albeit in a terrible way) to everything the mother
represents in the eyes of V. Or at least, what the mother is supposed to
represent. A lot of the descriptors for the father (maybe even all of
them) are about the things he is not. Each character possesses a unique
charm. Obviously, I am not going to ask, “Are all these people actually
based on real life?” since that is a meaningless question that will add
nothing to the text. I will ask you this, though, could Desperate be
made into a movie?
I think about this a lot, because I’m vain and tend to think of things
cinematically. It was inspired by Shame, the Steve McQueen film, and
so I think if that could be a film so could Desperate. There’s a
similarly scant plot and aimlessness and repetition, not that I think
I’m nearly as good of an artist as McQueen is. I think the bigger
question would be if audiences would be cool with a drawn out, aimless
sort of film, with a guy doing shots and snorting blow and masturbating
for 90 minutes and then it just kind of ending.
The idea of it just kind of ending. I like that. I like that a lot. I
think the most effective ending is always the freeze frame. All the best
films do it. 400 Blows, Fat Girl, Sword of Doom, Smithereens, Funny
Games… The list goes on and on. Agitation is the sequel to
It’s an earlier version of the second part of the 57,000 word manuscript
that stands on its own. I’m not going to say much, so as not to cheat
readers out of experiencing it themselves, but suffice to say if
desperation is the theme of the first then agitation is the theme of the
second. V is in a very different position and still running from that
same confluence of comfort and death, but it takes a radically different
What’s changed for you, since Desperate has come out and is now
available for people to experience/consume?
Not much. People read it and either tell me nothing or tell me they like
it. I’m still a very marginal writer. I did enroll at a PhD program
since it was published and my ex broke up with me in part over the
content, so there have been changes.
Congratulations on the PhD program. What do you think when I say the
phrase, “write only about what you know”?
Thanks! It’s the easiest starting place, and the one I use. I think it’s
inevitable that we write at least in part what we know, but it should
not be a restriction, especially since even if taken literally it’s just
an exhortation to know more. It’s a paradoxical statement I don’t
particularly resonate with.
I like that answer, and I think it’s a good segue to my next question.
What made you pick Amphetamine Sulphate?
I read Thomas Moore’s excellent Alone, which is a short, queer book,
and it made me think they might be a good home for my own short, queer
I remember you reached out to me in June of 2020 about AI-assisted
writing and automated text generation. Then our conversation turned into
all the different presses available for publishing. And I remember
asking you something really dumb, like, “Do you care if your book shows
up on Amazon or not?” At the time, the point of that statement was to
sort of explore the idea, or at least, the sentiment (and this is
totally just me thinking out loud) that a lot of indie writers feel
their work can be taken more seriously if it is available on Amazon or
if they can provide a link to the book that is on Amazon.com. At the
same time, sometimes, either the algorithm fucks up or the person
running the account didn’t set things up right but Amazon will show the
publisher actually as “Independently Published,” which throws all of
that perceived credibility out the window. I say this was a dumb
sentiment only because I have realized now that it does not matter. The
audience, those who are actually waiting for this kind of work, and are
willing to put in the time to read it and then have the discussions…
they don’t care if it is available on Amazon or B&N or anywhere else
like that. If they can pay the publisher (or writer) directly, more
times than not, they will do that. And to me, that’s amazing. Are you
content with the current indie lit scene or are you hoping to move
beyond? Were you originally wanting Desperate to be published this
way, or were you after the more traditional publishing route (i.e., lit
agent, NYC publisher, book tour, advance, etc.)?
I don’t think it was a dumb question on your part at all. I want to
reach as wide an audience as possible and some of that is being present
on the biggest platform possible, but the reason I decided Amazon didn’t
matter that much for this text is because I realized the audience for a
dark, dirty little chapbook about drinking and masturbation was, as you
pointed out, only ever going to reach an audience that was willing to go
to a publisher’s website and click to order, that it might engender a
bit of conversation but it was never going to be the kind of thing
people casually added to their Amazon cart next to the toilet paper and
hand soap and dildo and book about space ninjas. I always saw
Desperate as an indie thing, but if I get the opportunity to publish
the full 57,000 word manuscript it’s part of I’d probably seek an agent
and do that whole runaround again, and it’s at that point I would care
about distribution. I’ve got a very different kind of book coming out on
a press in 2023 with a press that has wider distro, and that’s just
because I figured they were a better fit for that particular text. That
said, I’m not even sure if I want to put the longer text Desperate is
part of out there like that. I’ve put myself through agent submissions
before and found it to be almost not worth the hassle, but as of now I
would like to get a permanent job at a university and the best way to do
that is to publish traditionally. I prefer the indie scene to be honest.
I generally prefer the vibes, and most of my favorite books of the past
couple years have come off small presses.
But is the literary agent really still necessary in 2022?
Honestly it depends on what you want to do. If you just want to write
and publish I’d say no, a writer can get a following through small press
and social media. If you want the university job, the New Yorker
publications, the public intellectual lifestyle, then the agent is still
the first step. But that’s not the only way to live, and it might not be
the best way for a writer to live. The best way for a writer to live is
whatever allows them to keep producing work while staying sane.
Fair. How do you feel about contemporary literature(?)—what’s
considered popular these days and what is selling for a lot of money.
So as not to just say a bunch of mean things that will get me canceled,
I’ll start by saying I just read What Belongs to You by Garth
Greenwell and absolutely loved it. There are good books coming out on
the Big 5. That being said, what I see out of so called “literary
fiction” is a lot of books about professional class people, having
professional class problems. Now people will read that and immediately
think of something that I haven’t read that breaks the pattern, but
that’s just something I’ve noticed. I would like to see more
working-class stories across all races, orientations, and genders. I’m
also something of a hypocrite: Desperate is about a grad student
having grad student problems, which fits the contemporary paradigm. Am I
cynical enough to have done so intentionally, so as to gain more
traction? Absolutely. I have written about different classes of people
having different classes of problems, but the market is definitely on my
mind when I decide what projects to pursue and which to maybe hold off
I think it’s totally fine to be aware of what constitutes the current
contemporary paradigm. It’s almost impossible not to and it certainly
is a lie, to say, “I completely do not care!” I’ll ask you this: what,
then, is experimental literature?
I cannot stress enough how much I wish I was above such considerations.
As for experimental literature, like pornography, I know it when I see
it. I wish I could offer a more substantive analysis, but it’s really
just when something is weird enough to cross an arbitrary line, usually
on a sentence level.
Personally, I don’t think there exists a definition for experimental
literature because experimental literature does not exist. Much like the
term cinematic, especially used when describing a piece of writing—I
feel it holds no meaning and is akin to the person using it saying, “I
did not completely understand it so I am going to say this thing because
it is all-encompassing and yes it is lazy, but so what?” The plague of
experimental fiction is that generally, it is the lay reader
describing something that is even a little bit different to what you’ll
find in the action aisle at B&N. And that’s totally fine, for them to
say that, but I don’t think it’s fair to call, say, House of Leaves
experimental fiction and then, within that same breath or sentence, also
declare Glamorama as a piece of experimental fiction. Do they both do
weird and different things that set them apart from more mainstream
literature? Absolutely. But they are also doing two very different
things, yet, people want to throw them into the same experimental
fiction box. I’ll ask you about another one. What is transgressive
There’s a video store in Seattle called Scarecrow that has a whole room
of “psychotronic” films featuring everything from Giallo to Troma to
The Matrix to the New French Extremity, just this jumble of films in
various genres that share an edgy aesthetic, with this little sign on
the wall listing the five or so most fucked up movies they carry. That’s
how I view transgressive fiction, this kind of grab bag of different
texts that might have nothing in common besides being edgy or gross in
some way. Transgression in fiction is real, but I’m not as positive that
it constitutes a genre in and of itself as much as I used to be. If I
absolutely had to nail it down I would say it’s literature that tends
towards the postmodern (itself a vague genre definition) and breaks
Defining genres is hard. I’m just going to jump to the next point. I
have no good segue for this one. How important is social media right
For me, it’s vital. It’s how I’ve connected with writers and presses
outside of the academy, and I truly value those connections. For a lot
of other writers, I still think it’s vital, since that’s part of how
they build their audience and establish themselves. But it’s not
universally needed to engage with it directly: I think a lot of writers
who aren’t on social media still get an audience even if their work
tends to be marketed by and propagated through social media.
Now I’m going to ask a series of quick questions. They’re a bit more
to-the-point and after a particular type of response. You’ll see what I
mean. For instance: what advice would you give to someone about
Decide, early on, what your goals are and calibrate your expectations.
Publishing is a different game from writing and it’s important to know
what you’re getting into. As for the writing itself, just read and write
as much as you can and learn to read like a writer.
What are your thoughts on literary awards?
I don’t really think about awards. It would be cool to win one and I’ve
put in for a couple but they’re just super subjective. They can be a way
to curate or expose texts. I really like The Sellout by Paul Beatty
and I probably never would have read it if it hadn’t gotten the Booker.
What do you have to say about MFA programs?
I ought to be careful how I answer this. I think they’re a great way to
meet your readers and build community and get to know established
writers you might not otherwise have a way to meet. I think I started to
learn how to write for real at my MFA, even though I didn’t totally
learn how to do it until afterwards. I don’t think they’re as good at
teaching people how to publish and how to live as a writer, I don’t
think it’s a terminal degree that prepares you to teach anymore, and I
definitely don’t think anyone should pay to attend one.
Why do you write?
I’m hyper-fixated on it, probably due to ADHD, and I have been for a lot
of my life. I’ve always thought in terms of stories and texts so it was
inevitable for me to start making some of my own. Besides that, I’m not
good at anything else and few things bring me anywhere near the same
level of satisfaction.
How do you write? (Every single day, once a week, whenever you feel
like it, etc.?)
Fits and starts. I try to write every day but fail, so recently I tend
to, when generating material, churn out several thousand words in a few
days then take a few days off.
What is the single hardest thing about writing?
So many things I’m not sure I can pick one. If I had to identify what’s
been hardest most recently it’s the discomfort I get when drawing from
the emotional core that I have to tap into to get my best work done. The
deepest stuff is the best and that’s the place it hurts the most to draw
from, so there is this masochistic element where I’m getting the
pleasure of having written but the process is painful.
Do you talk a lot about your writing IRL? Especially to people who
don’t write—i.e., regular people?
I used to talk about it a lot with my most recent ex. That was probably
a mistake. Otherwise, unless I’m talking shop with other writers I don’t
really get into conversations about my work.
How do you decide what you want to read—what is worth your time?
I read less than I should. I mostly just go by descriptions and
recommendations from other people. I also read things that might be akin
to what I’m working on. Next up I’ll probably be reading The Mad Man
which will be my first Samuel Delany book, I’m excited for that. Someone
in my PhD cohort recommended it to me based on a project I outlined.
We’ve arrived at my final question. When you are (re-)reading this
interview, and reviewing all of your answers that came from the
Alexandrine of Q1 2022—is there anything you want to tell your Q1 2027
self, right now?
I am imagining myself at the end of this academic program and staring at
the job market. I would like to remind myself how unhappy I was on
January 1 of 2021, watching the Dwayne Johnson Doom movie and hating
my job and staring at the liquor store from the roof of my building, and
to remember that’s why I did this in the first place. I would like to
apologize for sounding pretentious here at 32. I would like to tell her
that her ass better still be sober. I would like to remind her to say a
prayer now and again and to drink more water, cause I know that bitch is
You probably wanted a writing-related answer. I would like for her to
remember that no matter how much or how little success she’s had, what
matters is that she’s still writing things she thinks matter.
Alexandrine Ogundimu is a Nigerian-American transgender writer from
Indiana. Her novellas Desperate and Agitation are available now. Her
fiction can be found at Maudlin House, Exposition Review, X-R-A-Y,
and elsewhere. She received an MFA in Fiction at New York University and
is pursuing a PhD in English at University of Illinois at Chicago. She
runs the online literary magazine FILTH at
filthlitmag.com, and can be found on Twitter
and Instagram @cross_radical.