Exploring the art of prose


Conversations Between Friends: Stephanie Trott and Ananda Lima

Image is the book cover for CRAFT: STORIES I WROTE FOR THE DEVIL by Ananda Lima; title card for the new interview with Stephanie Trott.


Ananda Lima is an alchemist. With a spellbinding touch, her writing transmutes the mundane into the extraordinary, summoning readers to journey alongside her through the complexities of a global life. In her debut short story collection, Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil, a Brazilian-American writer repeatedly encounters the Devil: dancing at a Halloween party, waiting at the DMV, lurking in the background of news reports, standing vigil in a hospital room. From navigating the complexities of identity and culture to exploring the enigmatic presence of the Devil as a literary character, Lima creates a world where discord and harmony coexist and intertwine to create a captivating exploration of everyday life.

Lima and I spoke over Zoom on a bright and chilly Sunday morning, where we discussed the influence of politics and culture on her writing, the importance of experimentation and play, and the tangled web of human experience.

—Stephanie Trott


Stephanie Trott: How did you approach creating consistency across these linked stories while still letting them stand soundly as their own little worlds?

Ananda Lima: Consistency was on my mind from the start but didn’t truly materialize until later. Time is weird. I found that several developments unfolded as I was writing these stories individually, before I knew what the shape of the whole book would be. I think two factors that were really creating a spark in me were being in an MFA program and living through the Trump years. The intensity of that period gave a current to the stories. Storytelling and narrative—in fiction, propaganda, and the news—were present when I was writing most of these stories. When I was in the MFA, I was lucky because my cohort was so fun and amazing. I loved them and had a very safe space, so I found it hilarious that we were supposed to sit there and listen to all the negative feedback on our writing. It’s a little bit like a cult. You have to nod along and say thank you but nothing else—it’s a formalized and somewhat ritualized process, which, again, I found hilarious. What was going on in the news was absurd, so that made the stories follow the same current.


ST: Everyday life is absurd, which is exactly what it sounds like you were going for.

AL: I think that outlook helped create the whole world of the stories. Weirdly enough, the Devil ended up bringing more of a loving presence than a sinister one. The years when I was writing this were difficult for so many of us, and in my daily life I could feel that when I got out on the streets. It wasn’t just a thing on TV. All of the stories in this collection have moments that are sad and difficult, and I felt like the figure of the Devil needed to bring love.


ST: You bring the supernatural into many of these stories, namely “Antropófaga,” in which a woman eats tiny people from a vending machine. These miniscule figures each represent an American identity: a cowboy, a businessman, a hipster, people in pussy hats and MAGA hats, et cetera. At one point, the woman even eats a tiny version of herself! How do the people you meet in your own life impact the characters you write about and the subjects you choose to explore?

AL: That’s a mystery. In poetry, what I write tends to be much closer to my actual life in terms of what happens and people being mapped to real people, even if I take creative license along the way. A reader can often figure out who I’m talking about. With fiction, sometimes I get a vibe from a person or they say something that plants a seed. I think a lot of interactions with people end up contributing a lot to the writing, and with this example from “Antropófaga,” I wanted to comment on the complexity of living in America—or anywhere, actually. Culture provides so many icons, not just the stereotypes but many myths and figures. Many are fake but many are real, and in my experience they blend. Because I’ve been living in the United States for decades, I get the complexity of all these identities being a big part of life. I love “Antropófaga” because when people talk about it to me, I think some of them feel like there should be a clear message, but there isn’t! I love the messiness of it.


ST: Another of my favorite stories is “Idle Hands,” which takes the form of workshop letters compiled by the writer’s classmates. Where do you feel empowered to play with form, to deviate from the predictability of paragraphs, and how does that formal experimentation connect to your work as a poet?

AL: I had a lot of fun with this book. I brought “Idle Hands” to workshop as my last piece in the MFA. I had lucked out with the environment I was in, and everybody seemed to have a good time talking about this story since it was so playful. As a poet, I’m used to playing, and that’s part of what gives me joy in the writing. I love the story, and formal experimentation gives me much happiness. I was happy that I was able to bring experimentation into Craft because when I first started writing fiction, this was hard for me. My fiction and my poetry are different stylistically: I have long sentences in my fiction—I’m not a Hemingway-like person—whereas my poems tend to be skinny, with lots of space on the page. When I first started writing fiction, I struggled to figure out where the formal play would be. I missed it, and it didn’t happen organically, but I found a way that works for me through feeling free while creating. I let myself play with form in a larger sense, in the structure of the book with the stories and my little meta interludes. I also embraced how other forms can live in fiction, for example, playing with the epistolary by bringing workshop letters to the book, using typographical choices (e.g., brackets, crossed out text, white space). All of this is fun and possible in fiction, and their effect really changes the work. It creates a variety in texture that I really love.


ST: In one interaction in the book, the Devil produces a small flowering succulent in the palm of his hand and gives it to the writer. He tells her that sometimes you have to let things germinate, then later you can tend to them. It’s such a simple but true perspective, especially for writing. How long has this story collection lived inside of you, and what did it take to bring it to fruition?

AL: The collection took a long time, and I love that you brought that scene up because it’s such an important part of the book. I’m very much a writer who germinates ideas and lets them grow for a long time. It took me a while to be comfortable with that slower process because it creates a lot of anxiety early on, but I think now I’m in a place where I’m a bit more at peace with it. Like poetry, it helps that short stories let you see little units that are completed while you’re writing, but a lot of time passes before you see it all come together. I wrote some of the collection’s stories during my MFA, and others I had started before the program and then continued to work on them while studying; some I wrote after the initial surge of the pandemic and some before. I can lose a sense of time in looking at my notes because I can see where I was already thinking about something, already germinating a seed, long before I consciously thought I had begun working on it.

I had the idea of the Devil living in me a long while before I started writing it down. I knew there would be some sort of Devil-thing and I knew the mood of it, but I didn’t know what exactly it was. I did the MFA, which gave me deadlines, and then I had a gap just working on my own. Finally, I started working with my editor, Ali Fisher—I love her, it was such a good match—and when she would ask when I’d want to have something ready by, I would give unrealistic deadlines. I forgot how long revisions take because I don’t keep track. I have to remember I can’t actually churn a finalized story out by tomorrow!


ST: The stories in Craft oscillate between the writer’s first-person perspective, which moves us forward in her life, and the stories she writes for the Devil, which at first center the writer through a third-person omniscient narrator. Then about halfway through, the stories expand and grow away from the writer, becoming more of her than about her. What did writing in so many different perspectives and voices offer in exploring different facets of the writer’s exterior life and interior world?

AL: I played a lot with the ordering of the book. Some stories were always going to be where they are, but I felt like it would be nice to have a grounding event (in meeting the Devil) in the beginning to define the character so the reader would have more space to move in later. Even if people reading the later stories question whether they were written by the writer, they already have this vision of the writer who is writing stories for the Devil, so I offer different ways to connect with the material. I am very happy for people to have different understandings between interludes about the writer versus the stories she writes, but especially those later stories.


ST: The effect is dreamlike, with so many layers of submersion. The reader is told the writer wrote the stories they’re reading, but then we still have a higher consciousness that you, the very real Ananda Lima, are the writer…it’s metafictional, even metaphysical.

AL: That’s exactly what I was having so much fun playing with. A lot of people complain about metafiction and autofiction, but I really enjoy both as a reader because of the friction they create. I read an article about another writer’s experience as a person of color and how their readers thought their fiction was always real. Many have a tendency to read fiction by writers of color as autofiction, so I put these ideas together and thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny to write in a style that has indicators of autofiction but also have the Devil there to mess things up?” Those layers between the reader, the writer, and the stories—they allow for the kind of work I very much like to read. Disorienting but in a fun way.


ST: Do you feel there’s an expectation that writers draw from their own lives and experiences, especially when those experiences are underrepresented?

AL: Yes, because those experiences are often marked as exotic, so I think there’s a tendency to go that way. This reality is unfortunate, but it gave me a lot to play with. We’re in an exciting time for speculative nonfiction, and then there’s autofiction, and then there’s this space in the middle that’s very much part of what I was thinking about in putting these stories together.


ST: Among themes of loss, longing, and fear, you explore identity and the Brazilian immigrant experience. Where do you see the intersection between language, culture, and identity playing out in Lusophone literature, particularly in the context of diaspora narratives?

AL: For me, this intersection was there the whole time, and it’s still there all the time in my life. It’s a balance to acknowledge this is a big part of my life, all these identities. There’s Brazilian, Latina, immigrant…I want to represent these identities, but they’re not my only thoughts. I’m not not representing them, but I want to have a more complex understanding of how my identities manifest. I wanted to let myself be myself. I put the struggle in the text too.


ST: You allude to this struggle in one of the bracketed, in-between stories: “Sometimes when the immigrant writer wrote, there was no migration in the story, and she wondered if there should be. Sometimes the immigrant writer wrote immigrant stories and wondered if she shouldn’t.”

AL: That’s also true of nonwriting people, right? Are we reflecting on our experiences because we’re supposed to be reflecting on them? But also, sometimes you do lean into others’ expectations of who you should be based on your experiences. I wonder if sometimes we do things because we are expected to do them. But also, sometimes the expected things are true. Here are some small examples of this: say home cooking from your childhood, or the fruit you grew up with, like mangoes. I see mangoes in so many poems, written in loving and nostalgic ways. I notice that, but the truth is I really do love mangoes, for real. And the ones I find on trees at home do taste better than the ones I get in the supermarket here. So the recurrence of that makes sense. And I do love samba and other stereotypical Brazilian things. But then there are all these other things: I am Brazilian so I thought I liked soccer. In my twenties, I would go to soccer games, especially during the World Cup. I would cheer and I thought I really cared. But one day I realized it is not really my thing at all. It never was. I haven’t watched a game since then. It has been years. I don’t even know when the next World Cup is. There are so many small things like that that build up where you fall into the expectation or don’t. But you know the expectation is there. And sometimes you may not even know if you do something because it is expected (or its opposite, you don’t want to do it only because you know it is expected). I think that bleeds into writing too. This pause before going to territory that is true but expected of you because you belong to a particular identity. It makes you question yourself. I decided to think carefully about these things, but also do what I want, have my joy in the end, write about mangoes if I want to.

You and I share this connection, being Luso, where we have the same foods and the same words, but we’re different. I’m interested to see how the boundaries are different between the groups where you belong. When you become an immigrant, your group expands. In the United States, there’s me as a Brazilian, as a Luso speaker. Depending on where I lived, I have had lots of Luso speakers around me. When I moved to the United States and lived in LA, I used to hang out with so many people from Mexico, and we had a lot in common. All these intersections between different immigrants and between Luso speakers and even within communities in Brazil feel special. It’s a moving, porous border, and it’s more about bringing people in. I’ve been lucky with the people I’ve met, lucky to share a language with them too. It is beautiful hearing your language, words that are yours said by someone else.

When you and I met at the “Writing the Luso Experience” workshop at Disquiet a few years ago, we talked about the similarities across Luso experiences that span different countries and many generations. When I read people’s stories and I find a reference that’s also mine, but those people aren’t from Brazil and their background is Cape Verdean or Azorean or mainland Portuguese, I realize it’s hundreds of years that link us. I feel so wonderful and so connected to these people. It’s rare, as a writer, I think, to find that bond with someone else.


ST: Haunting is a big theme within Craft, and we learn quickly that the writer’s mother is haunted by the ghosts of the living—including the ghost of the living writer. What a poignant reflection of saudade, the Portuguese concept of melancholic nostalgia and longing for someone or something absent. Are there any other linguistic or narrative strategies particular to Lusophone writers who navigate the complexities of cultural identity and displacement?

AL: Yes! We include a lot of play in our literatures. Even confining yourself to the more famous authors who “made it” in the United States, as in, translations you might reasonably buy in a bookstore, you can find such gems as Machado de Assis’s The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas (translated by Flora Thomson-DeVeaux) or Mário de Andrade’s wild Macunaíma (translated by Katrina Dodson). And then you have metafiction happening in the works of Clarice Lispector. Or the supernatural in one of my favorites, Death with Interruptions, by Saramago, where first death is canceled and nobody dies, but then death comes and hangs out and meets people. I had great examples of how to work with very big concepts that are hard to pin down or describe in a simple manner, or concepts to do with identity, from these literatures.

I see so much space to deal with the complexities of identity in many, many ways. We have Katherine Vaz’s new book, which is more of a gripping, historical approach, and I think that style can be done quite wonderfully. And then we’ll also have Bruna Dantas Lobato’s forthcoming Blue Light Hours, a gorgeous and tender book about a young Brazilian woman in the United States, her mother back in Brazil, and their encounters through Skype. I love the space we get to explore. You can be a realistic writer and lean into history, or you can be more surrealistic and lean into ghosts. I’m more of the ghost type and usually have some sort of formal play in my work because it is a technique I carry over from poetry. That playfulness helps me find open space for resonance instead of resolution, whereas I think you can also claim space with other approaches. But it takes a while to find what it is you can do, you know?


ST: You’re the architect of this reading experience, and within it place becomes a character unto itself. At one point the writer is at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and observes how the space “literally moved the people around…the building was motion, an organism. It was time in reinforced concrete.” As you were writing, how did you think about the ways the reader would move through these stories?

AL: As a writer I think there are two modes: one is the living and writing of the story as it unfolds and the other is thinking about the story and nudging it, directing. We can call those modes writing and revision, though the boundaries are not so clear cut and the terms are not perfect. When I am writing the story, I am not so aware of the big picture of how I am moving the reader in a bigger scale. I am moving myself as a writer and reader in that moment. I am thinking of how the reader might be moved in that precise sentence. Then there is the other mode where I step back and look at the movement in a bigger scale. When I do that, it is not about checking plot points from a checklist. It is more about noticing and shaping the story. Sometimes small nudges, sometimes building bridges. I love this metaphor you brought from the book. I think this second larger scale mode is thinking about how the reader moves through the book. I have a sort of crescendo sometimes, the shape of plot, escalating events or emotions, but it’s not always a traditional solving.


ST: But the Guggenheim isn’t traditional in its architecture either.

AL: Right! I do feel more that this story in particular is about how you’re moving when you’re in your experience of going down a path. I love reading a neat plot that resolves itself, it’s fun and lovely. But I was doing something more experimental. So to learn how to experiment and let it happen and still work on the story having its shape—I needed time to figure out how to accomplish all of those goals. As I’m writing an individual story, I’m guided by the mood I’m feeling as I’m going through it. And then when it comes to putting the collection as a whole together, I’m playing with more awareness of what’s happening in between stories. It’s easier to organize and see what’s going to happen. Architecture is a big influence for me because I’m from Brasília and that’s very impactful. It really speaks to me.


ST: Stories move with us, and we’re symbiotically moved by them. How do you hope people will be moved by this collection, and who do you hope these stories will reach?

AL: Craft is an experimental, playful collection, but it also has a lot of heart. There are difficult parts, but I hope people can see that even though life is terrible sometimes, we still have moments of joy and love. I hope they can recognize some of what makes us suffer together and also recognize how we can find beauty in this world we share. There’s recognition that we’re going through something together too. This collection is a book for people who have any experience with finding identity, for people who are overwhelmed by the news. It’s a book for people who live here in America at this time. We’re experiencing all of this together. It’s also for people who like shenanigans and metafiction.


ST: Are you afraid of anything?

AL: I’m afraid of so many things! I’m very afraid of what may happen in this political moment, but I also understand that life’s always a little bit like this, you know? I go and live, and I think I’m an adventurous person, but I’m still scared! I was struggling with how to deal with fear in a way that isn’t despairing. The political and personal come together, and you fear for your children, or for your friends, or for yourself. Then there’s the fear of the blank page. Fear was a big part of what went into this book in a way that I didn’t realize in the beginning, but I worked a lot on those fears and, even though I couldn’t eliminate them, I learned how to derive some beauty from them.


ST: To recognize there’s a safe type of fear and there’s an irrational type of fear, sometimes you need to occupy that middle space. 

AL: And it’s so hard! When you know a fear isn’t justified, it’s hard to convince yourself that it is. But it’s also hard just to know what to say. And I feel there’s a lot of fears that you really can’t do much about because they’re out of your control.


ST: My grandmother used to say there were devils among us, and I’ve come to see that’s true. The writer in Craft also arrives at this realization, that there might be a main Devil but there are also smaller ones that take positions in her daily life. I’m curious—where in your own life have you met a devil or the Devil?

AL: I think we’ve all had that happen, where we realize someone doesn’t have a conscience. Sometimes you have these moments where you become shocked at someone’s behavior. Over the years I’ve realized it’s pretty awesome that most people aren’t like that, like devils. You encounter people being rude or annoyed but not often in a malevolent way. It’s rare, and it’s only a small number of people where I’ve thought, “That is really, really messed up.” We’re such social creatures, and we help each other a lot. A great example is Ross Gay and his whole body of work. There’s a lot of niceness. We encounter a lot of really terrible actions coming from high leadership, and I don’t know if it’s something to do with power or the selection process that makes this happen over and over again. In daily life, you meet less of this malice, but you do meet it sometimes, so it’s weird when it does happen.

The capital-D Devil: I’m just fascinated by this figure. I started reading works about the Devil before the pandemic, but during the pandemic I also read a lot of theory—it’s great writing, but it’s also really good at putting you to sleep! The Devil is such a fascinating figure; sometimes it is associated with the people who are really evil in their actions, and then it shifts to be associated with people who are marginalized. Throughout history this figure is tied to different people, and it’s interesting to see how it appears in folk culture in places like Brazil or Mexico. People make sculptures or we see stylized devils. In Brazil we see literatura de cordel, these chapbooks that people have made for many years where they print a cheap mimeographed story and sell them at fairs. The Devil is always a common character in these chapbooks, and often people will trick the Devil instead of the other way around. It’s a figure that’s flexible and stokes people’s imaginations in different ways.


ST: Knowing that we all hold identities outside of being writers and that you aren’t being held by the Devil to write—or are you?—what keeps you coming back to the page?

AL: I always need to write, and I have always written. Even when I didn’t know I was doing it and didn’t see myself as a writer, I was writing something. Diaries, poems, et cetera. My awareness that writing is part of who I am came later. One way of thinking that really helps me with my identity as a writer now and makes me a much more relaxed person is accepting I’m not a person who’s writing every day. I’m not a regular writer, but I’m always working on something with varying levels of awareness. I have bouts when I’m writing a bunch, but then I have months and months when I’m not writing and I know I’m brewing a story or a poem or something else creative. Sometimes when I sit down, I’m more aware of what I have ready to access, and sometimes I’m not, but I know I’ll find it later. I’ve been through the cycle enough times now that I’m much more comfortable with my process, and I’m happier to own being a writer because I understand that I don’t have to write every day. Writing is something that in a sense I just do, not that it’s easy or anything, but it’s a part of who I am.


STEPHANIE TROTT’s writing has previously appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Boiler, F(r)iction, HAD, and elsewhere. Originally from New Jersey, she is managing editor of The Rumpus and lives with her wife in Massachusetts. Find her on Instagram @sc_trott.

ANANDA LIMA is a poet, translator, and fiction writer, author of Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil (Tor Books, 2024), and Mother/land (Black Lawrence Press, 2021), winner of The Hudson Prize. Her work has appeared in four chapbooks, including Amblyopia (Bull City Press), as well as publications such as The American Poetry Review, Poets.org, The Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, Witness, and elsewhere. She has been awarded the inaugural Work-in-Progress Fellowship from Latinx in Publishing Inc, sponsored by Macmillan Publishers, and will be a Fall 2024 Flagler College Storytellers Author in Residence. She has served as a mentor at the New York Foundation for the Arts Immigrant Artist Program and currently serves as a contributing editor at Poets & Writers. She has an MA in linguistics from UCLA and an MFA in creative writing in fiction from Rutgers University, Newark. Originally from Brazil, she lives in Chicago. Find her on Instagram @anandalima.