Writer Natalie S. Harnett’s work was featured in issue #10 of Newtown Literary. We interviewed her about her writing, and her answers are below. For more of Natalie’s work, check out her website or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
What is your relationship to Queens?
I grew up in Elmhurst and lived in Queens until I was nearly thirty.
What is your favorite memory of Queens?
As I kid I loved walking by the little house that used to be on the corner next to Macy's on Queens Boulevard. It was a charming house with a large lovely property and seemed so incongruous next to that huge circular Macy’s building, which also seemed so strange. There were willow trees growing by that house and my grandmother’s neighbor had cut branches from them to weave a bassinet for me. I still have that bassinet and used it for my daughter!
How would you describe the writing you do?
It’s almost always about family and the nature of the unknown—what we can and can’t know about ourselves, the world, and each other.
How did you come to writing?
I think I developed a love of writing from the many afternoons I spent reading early 20th-century poems to my maternal grandmother. We probably started reading poetry together when I was in 1st or 2nd grade. It gave me such a love of language. I think my family’s love of made-up words and my paternal grandmother’s broken English—she was an ethnic German immigrant from Slovenia—also helped to encourage a playfulness with language that still gives me great joy.
What inspires you?
The natural world and lyrical language.
What does it mean to be a writer in Queens?
I think it means contributing to one of the most ethnically diverse and fasted growing literary communities in the world. It’s very exciting!
What writing project(s) are you currently working on?
I have two projects. I’m currently reworking the novel that "The Ear of Her Heart” is excerpted from, and I’m fleshing out the outline for another novel inspired by my father’s experience. My father is a child war refugee from Gottschee, an ethnic German enclave in Slovenia that no longer exists. The story is told from the perspective of a 17-year-old girl who gets involved in espionage for her country.
And, finally, my favorite question: What should I be asking you that I didn't?
I’d love to talk about my inspiration for “The Ear of Her Heart”. The novel that the piece is excerpted from is set only blocks from Newtown High School, the high school I attended. In fact, my family has been in Elmhurst since the early 1900s, and my grandmother was one of the first Newtown attendees. That area was once called Old Newtown and is one of the oldest settlements in NY.
The novel is inspired by local history, but also by my great-grandmother's and her servant's lives. My great-grandmother was a diamond dealer, and she came over from Amsterdam under very shady circumstances. Her servant was a white woman who was basically her slave. That servant was never paid a dime, never had a day off and, once she became too old to work, my great-grandmother gave her away to my grandmother. Their story has haunted me since I was a little kid, and it's been a very powerful experience writing about them.