Catherine Texier // The Cagibi Express Interview

Catherine Texier was born and raised in France and writes both in French and in English. She has lived in Paris, Montreal and New York. She is the author of the novels Chloé l’Atlantique (written in French and published in Paris), Love Me Tender, Panic Blood, Victorine and Young Woman With a Bunch of Lilac, as well as a memoir, Breakup, which was an international bestseller. More about her memoir follows the interview. Her novel Victorine won Elle Magazine’s 2004 Readers’ Prize Best Novel of the Year. She is the recipient of National Endowment for the Arts Award and two New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships. Her short fiction and essays have been widely anthologized. She was co-editor of the cult literary magazine Between C and D, and has written for the New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Newsday, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Marie-Claire, and She lives in New York City.

Her new novel is Russian Lessons. More about Russian Lessons follows the interview.

: Hilaire Belloc, the early twentieth century Anglo-French writer and historian, wrote, “We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

Catherine Texier: I am not sure I agree—I think it’s because I don’t quite understand the difference. For me the two terms are not in contradiction. The only times I actually “wander” is when I travel, because my time is usually more unstructured. So for me traveling and wandering go hand in hand. I certainly travel for fulfillment (as well as research, discovery, pleasure, etc.) but whether I am in Paris or in Rome or in Hanoi, or in Moscow, I will always wander into a side street or in a market, and that’s also for fulfillment, and discovery.

: Name some of your favorite distractions when you travel somewhere.

Texier: I love to wander off in flea-markets and markets looking for local arts and crafts; I love to discover little cafés or shacks tucked away; go to museums; visit old churches. Or maybe—if it’s by the sea—find some private beach or quiet calanque away from the crowds.

: A cagibi, loosely interpreted, is a space such as a cubbyhole, or a space where you store things. Or the workspace in which authors write. For ourselves we’ve translated it as “any shelter, no matter how tiny, that allows for big imaginings to take shape.” Pick what kind of cagibi would be best suited for your creative process: a) a super organized cubbyhole b) a super messy tool shed c) any restricted space d) a space as vast as the universe. Please explain your choice—we are dying to understand your creative process.

Texier: Since I am French and cagibi is a French word, the connotation is not that appealing for me as a place to write. Although I can understand where you are coming from: I know some writers need to feel restrained in their space. There was a cagibi in my grandparents’ home, where I grew up, and it was kind of a dark closet, tucked away behind a staircase, to use as a storage place. My grandfather used to recite poetry at dinner, and one of his favorite poems to recite when I was growing up was by Victor Hugo, and it was about a little girl who had been punished and her punishment was to eat dry bread in a black corner closet, and the poet would secretly bring her marmalade. In my mind that black corner closet was a kind of cagibi—a place where you would be punished. All this to say that I favor wide opened spaces. Light, plants, plenty of windows, open space, view of the sky. So I guess I would lean towards a space as vast as the universe.

: This is Cagibi Express and we are here to deliver news to your readers—what can your readers expect next from you? What are you working on now?

Texier: Just finished a new novel, After David, about a 62-year-old divorced writer having an affair with a much younger jazz musician she met online, and trying to come to terms with her marriage and her past and move on with her life. An excerpt will appear soon in KGB Bar Lit Magazine.

: How does traveling to a new place influence your writing? In what ways do you incorporate travel experiences into your writing?

Texier: I always have a notebook and my laptop with me when I travel—and I often get ideas and jot them down, or work on a novel-in-progress. And I also incorporate travel experiences. I’ve written short stories or chapters of novels inspired by my travel adventures.

: Do you use your work as an excuse to travel? Do you use travel as an excuse to not work?

Texier: I find plenty of excuses not to work when I home, I don’t need to travel for that!  I always write when I travel—even just ideas or bits of scenes. But yes, I have also traveled to research a book. My most memorable research travels were when I was working on my novel Victorine that takes place in France and in Indochina (at the time when Vietnam was a French colony) in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. I did research in Vendée, a region on the Atlantic Coast of France, where part of my family is from, because the book was inspired by family stories. And I spent a few unforgettable weeks in Vietnam to research and get a sense of the place and of history for my novel.

: Simone de Beauvoir once wrote: “Dans un cagibi … reposaient des générations de bottes et de bottines” (Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée, 1958, p. 77). We like this notion of a cagibi as a place where one might store love letters, suitcases, heirlooms, tchotchkes—objects that might hold one’s personal or family history. When you researched for your novel Victorine, were there any surprising family letters, photos, or objects that you found which took your novel in a different direction?

Texier: I love this question. And I searched for letters, photos and objects that would bring Victorine to life in a more tangible way to me in the present. I even went searching—not in a cagibi but in the old “Colonial Archives” in Aix-en-Provence (in the South of France), which are now called “Overseas Archives.” And I found tons of letters and photos from the period of French people having gone to Indochina and who wrote back to family in France with their photos. And even though none of these letters or photos came from Victorine Texier, they were very representative of the looks and emotional states of the French “colons” at the turn-of-century, and they inspired me. Unfortunately, these letters and photos were not piled in a mysterious cagibi, but stocked in gray cardboard boxes in the cold and sterile basement of the Archives. Ultimately, though, I relied mainly on oral history, and interviewed family who had known Victorine, or remembered stories about her.

: Tell us about a book you read that made you want to go and visit a place you’ve never been to.

Texier: I think all the books I read as a teenager made me dream of traveling. Certainly all the American novels I read in high school and in college in Paris (Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Dos Passos, Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and all the classic noir thrillers) made me dream of coming to the US—and maybe they are responsible for me living here! And the Russian novels (Tolstoy, Dostoïevsky, Bulgakov) made me want to go to Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Same with the big Latin American novels, which were always on my mind when I spent one year backpacking across Latin America in the 70s. And I always take novels written by writers from the country I travel to, or novels that take place there. I was in Quintana Roo last Christmas, and I read a book of short stories by Lucia Berlin, as many of them take place in Mexico.

: You host a monthly literary salon in your East Village apartment. Historically, these spaces in which literary gatherings took place were often referred to by the room in which they were held, such as cabinet, or alcove. At one point the preferred room was even the bedroom! As such, the literary salon has been constructed as a space between public and private spheres—intimate, and yet open to the public. And women have long been the ones creating and hosting these spaces. What made you decide to run your own salon?

Texier: Really? I didn’t know that! I mean, I didn’t know that the salons were sometimes held in the bedroom or in a cabinet. “Salon” in French means a living-room or a sitting-room, where one receives guests. It is true that the Salon I run in my apartment in the East Village takes place between public and private spheres. I don’t open it completely to the public, since I only invite people on my email list, and I only create a private Facebook event, but evidently, friends, readers and musicians invite friends, and many people come that I don’t know. The origin of my own Salon is actually a little esoteric. I had hired a Feng Shui consultant to breathe new life into my place (and into my life) and she had immediately let me know that my living room (where the readings take place) was all wrong, and that I had to change the place of the furniture around to let the energies pass more fluidly and call in love, friendship and social life. She was also skeptical about my 1930 baby grand piano (which used to belong to my grandparents, in France, and on which I learned to play), since I wasn’t playing it anymore. She even suggested getting rid of it rather than letting it sit idly and mute! Not what I wanted! That’s where the idea of a literary and musical Salon came from. The piano would be the heart of the Salon, and the landing where the stairs go up to the second floor would be the stage for the readers. And that was it! The first one took place in April 2015 and I organized and hosted it with the help of a young French artist, Léonore Chastagner, who was living at my place at the time.

But the Salon has a deeper resonance for me. It has echoes of Between C and D the magazine I edited with my ex-husband, Joel Rose, in the eighties. We also organized many readings each time we put out an issue of the magazine—although at the time, they took place in bars and various venues in the East Village. In my own way, with this Salon, I reconnect with the spirit of the magazine, by bringing the community of writers and musicians together.

More about Catherine Texier’s novel Russian Lessons

russian lessonCatherine Texier’s latest novel, Russian Lessons, was published in 2016 by Rawmeash. From the publisher:

A divorced writer and mother of an eight-year-old little girl gets involved with a tempestuous thirty-year-old Russian illegal immigrant. What starts as a sexy and edgy romance with no strings attached, quickly turns into a darker bond of obsession and compulsion as Yuri constantly pushes the limits sexually and emotionally, driving their relationship to an intense and brutal pitch. Their stormy liaison eventually threatens the narrator’s life as her own complicated feelings and vulnerabilities violently conflict with Yuri’s desperate pursuit of love and security in the US—just as 9/11 strikes.

More about Catherine Texier’s memoir Breakup

Catherine Texier’s memoir Breakup published in 1999 was an international bestseller. From the publisher:

Breakup book cover 200w.jpgBreakup is the erotically charged chronicle of the tempestuous final months of an eighteen-year romantic and literary partnership, self-destructing in the aftermath of the ultimate betrayal. Fearlessly and courageously, Texier chronicles the end of that love as it is wrecked by infidelity and deceit in a literary tour de force reminiscent by turns of Marguerite Duras and Henry Miller.

Texier writes in harrowing detail about the powerful sexual relationship she shared with her husband even during their breakup, how sex between them became a substitute for real intimacy, and how the fabric of a marriage (a shared cup of café au lait on a yellow table every morning, the memories of giving birth to two glorious daughters, of coediting their own literary magazine) is brutally dissolved.

Breakup is unsentimental and unflinching, a journal of love’s exquisite torture. Every emotion, including rage, disgust, self-pity, hatred, sympathy, and jealousy, is mined. Heartbreaking, too, is the effect of the breakup on Texier’s two children who, sometimes caught in the crossfire of their parents’ turmoil, are trapped as the relationship spirals out of control and their once-secure home becomes a battlefield.

Ultimately, Breakup is about the risks one great passion involves. It is a journey of the heart in all its wild beating; a courageous diary of a soul laid bare, and the redemptive power of love.

Learn more about Catherine Texier’s work at her website.

Appears In

Issue 6.1

Browse Issues