No. 97 - From our Archives: Adrian Moens introduces the Interview with Tess Congo.

Photograph by Adrian Moens


October 30th, 2019

On an afternoon in April, 2018, Adrian Moens interviewed Tess Congo, whose short story, "Winter in Persephone," appears within Issue No. 3 - Winter 2017-18.

Within the issue, Moens' words regarding the afternoon appear between Congo's story and her interview ––– and also make up our daily, below.

All of our best,

Curlew Quarterly

Warm April light bows around the window curtains, slides across a kitchen table, glances off a stovetop where kettles have rattled and steamed through the now receding winter; then it bounces through bookshelves that line an exposed brick wall, and evaporates into a living room framed by couches. The light, now less broken with the turn of spring, seems to have finally found its place in the world, and that place seems to be exactly where we are: on the top floor of a Lower East Side apartment building, on the warmest day of the still burgeoning year.

Tess Congo sits at her kitchen table, facing the window’s light. Her red, flower-adorned headband matches the interior glaze of the teacup she’s cradling in her palms. An expression of honesty and earnestness glows in her smile as she relates the strange coincidence of the Velveteen Rabbit being spoken of twice the previous day. It was her favorite story as a child, and its mention has provided her cause for reflection. What does it mean to be, or become, real? Certainly, her newest short story, “Winter in Persephone,” is peppered with insights to this question, which it explores through the lens of disrupted domesticity, the challenges of living with mental illness, and the role social media plays in our contemporary reality. Tess writes from the perspective of the lives she hasn’t lived, things she thinks she might not know, and decisions that would not be her own. She seeks to enter a space, create a reality for the characters, and see what happens.

We spoke for the next hour, the light from the window like a movie projector, unraveling the wistful, adventurous, and engaging story of how Tess got to New York, and how she’s managed since arriving, illuminating what now seems less a coincidence and more a doorway through which to enter into her world. This is the story of Tess Congo, becoming real.

After awhile, we decided to go for a meander through the Lower East Side, into SoHo, toward Elizabeth Street Garden, one of Tess’ favorite places in the city. Leaving our sweaters and jackets behind us, and letting the late afternoon sun warm our bare arms, we waded through the Saturday sun gazers and street vendors, stopping occasionally to snap a few photos and comment on the passersby. 

When we arrived at Elizabeth Street Garden, nestled between buildings on a narrow city block, it was in full bloom. Tulip-lined flower beds breathed colorful bursts beneath an eruption of misty pink tree blossoms. Picturesque groups of city dwellers, newly emboldened by the warm weather, loitered aimlessly, the sun settling around their peaceful words and gestures. Tess posed for a few photographs around the garden. We were mostly silent, taking in the atmosphere of the brilliant late afternoon.

As we were leaving we passed a folding table set up with a spread of literature and a glass jar for donations. Tess informed me that the garden was to be demolished to make way for a new affordable housing development and that the collected donations were meant to contribute to the ongoing fight to keep the garden from quite literally sinking beneath the weight of gentrification. I think both our hearts sank a little as we stepped out onto the sidewalk. The approaching evening seemed a little closer and the air a touch more cool on our arms.

Upon returning to the apartment Tess and I decided to climb her rickety, narrow fire escape to the roof of the adjacent building. I shot a few more photos and we spoke candidly about the day and the coming summer. The cool, pink light from the western horizon washed across the Lower East Side buildings, and we watched as windows shut and curtains closed on the waning day. We wondered if anyone had been watching us, if anyone else wondered who we were, what we were doing, where we were going, or what we would say next.

-Adrian Moens.

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