Kay Murphy

recorded in New Orleans, LA

 

Kay Murphy

I’m Kay Murphy and I live in New Orleans.


The Knox Writers’ House

How did you get here?


Murphy

I got here through the generosity of a friend who bought me a business suit so I could go to an interview at the MLA. They wanted someone to teach, it was an instructor position at the University of New Orleans. So I went to the interview, I did very well in the interview, then I went back home. They had a new chairperson take over and when I said, “How is my application coming along?” because I really though I’d been hired, the chairperson wrote back and said, “You are not on the top of my list.” It’s the only job I applied for because I’d been to New Orleans one other time, with a friend. I was a runner at the time and there I was, in December, during the break, out running in my shorts and a t-shirt and there’s lush green growing everywhere and I absolutely fell in love with it. And I also fell in love with it because I used to be a party girl, and I thought Illinois just wasn’t doing it. The bars closed at midnight, Sunday there weren’t enough parties. And it was also the perfect place because I loved to get in costume and there’s always parades and parties and you can put on masks and be whoever you are. That’s how I got here.


KWH

Where were you in Illinois?


Murphy

A small town called Paris, Illinois.


KWH

Where else have you lived?


Murphy

Well, just other places in Illinois. I lived in Champaign/Urbana. I still like Champaign/Urbana a great deal. It’s a college town, there’s a lot of great coffee houses. There’s a great second hand bookstore, Jane Addams.


KWH

Oh yeah, I’ve been there. It’s a couple of stories, right?


Murphy

It’s a couple of stories and it was actually the first woman’s bookstore that I know that opened in the United States. It opened in Chicago and then this is the branch. I think someone just bought it out, but it’s still a good bookstore.


KWH

Do you think there’s a vibrant writing community in New Orleans and do you feel like you’re part of that community?


Murphy

I absolutely do. Yes to both. And I would say there’s more than one writing community, and we don’t all work together, you see what I mean? There’s the poets who read at the bars, and I am one of those as well as being related to the university. There is a huge African American writing community here and there’s an African American writing bookstore, so that’s a huge community. Some of us mingle. Then there’s a very young crowd. The Maple Leaf bar, if someone hasn’t mentioned it yet, is the oldest reading series in the South. It’s on Sunday afternoon. Most of us have read there, so that’s a community. We put out an anthology every few years called the Maple Leaf Rag. So there are several communities and there’s a vibrant reading series you’ve probably also heard about –Dave Brinks’ reading series. He’s in a bar called The Gold Mine Saloon, it’s in the Quarter. He has a Thursday evening reading series. If you have time, I think he’s worth looking into.


KWH

Do you think giving readings is an important part of being a writer? Or attending them?


Murphy

Yes, I do, and I used to give a lot more readings than I do now. When we’re young, or at least when I was young, I was really motivated by ego, so I wanted to get out there and show how good I was and read my poems, and I thought I had a great voice, and get all the kudos and the clapping and people coming up to me afterward and saying, “Oh my god, that’s so wonderful.” And after a while, you get tired, and I don’t give as many readings. Readings for me, they’re both exhausting, because they take a lot of energy, and they fill me up with energy, sort of like teaching, because of that tension –that tension of standing up there and you want to be good, you don’t want to make any big booboos. We’re fed by the audience. And I think going to readings…I wish that more younger poets were better readers of their own poems. There are dropped last lines, or the last few words, reading into their chests. I know some favorite poets who cannot read their work. Have you ever heard a recording of William Carlos Williams?


KWH

Yeah.


Murphy

Does he care about those line breaks?


KWH

And he sounds like such a no-nonsense doctor when he talks.


Murphy

And kind of a whiny, nasal voice. So I always think of him when I think of a poor reader. Because he created this variable line, I would think he would want to emphasize it. But he doesn’t.

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