Graduate’s Corner: What is “Interstitial,” and Is It Contagious? by Ellen Denham

EllenHeadshot2014Ellen Denham, a 2006 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate, is a multidisciplinary performing artist and writer completing a doctorate in music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Her publications include stories in Daily Science Fiction, the Sky Warrior Books anthology Gears and Levers 3, and most recently the Lightspeed special Women Destroy Science Fiction issue.

A member of the board of the Interstitial Arts Foundation, Ellen is at her most interstitial when she is combining her music and writing and collaborating with other artists, for instance, creating a comic soundscape from internet memes or an improvised score for dancing sentient mineral blobs, both of which occurred in projects she has directed at the  Indy Convergence. Read more at

(In our January post, Delia Sherman talked about her work with the Interstitial Arts Foundation. Some readers had questions about the nature of interstitial arts, so we asked Ellen to elucidate on the subject and tell us how it might intersect with writing.)

You may have come across the term “interstitial” used to describe writing or art.  In its most basic dictionary definition, interstitial means “relating to or situated in the interstices”–the small spaces in between things.  In an artistic sense, interstitial art is anything that is hard to define because it straddles or crosses boundaries of genre or artistic discipline, or falls outside of mainstream traditions.

Many books don’t fit neatly into one genre–for example, Susanna Clarke’s multiple award-winning Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.  Is it historical fiction?  Alternate history?  Fantasy?  I heard Clarke talk about this book at Worldcon in Glasgow in 2005, and as I recall, somewhere in the publishing or marketing process, a question arose about whether the book was fantasy.  “Of course it’s fantasy!  It has magicians and fairies in it!”  she had replied.  But the consciously old-fashioned writing style and extensive footnotes borrowed from mainstream literary traditions gave this book broad appeal to readers both inside and outside the fantasy genre. Continue reading “Graduate’s Corner: What is “Interstitial,” and Is It Contagious? by Ellen Denham”