It’s a pleasure to introduce Andrew Koss, whose thoughtful, compelling essays investigate and challenge contemporary American masculinity, gender norms, and family roles. Koss’s work considers the ways we know and care for one another, what we owe our families and what we owe the strangers who appear in our lives and may change how we understand ourselves. His essays range from his work as an Uber driver, to the origin story of a beloved interactive childhood toy, to experiences of chronic illness, marriage, and parenting, in a lucid, compassionate style that is admirably willing to face difficulty. —Hilary Plum
Andrew Koss is a writer of creative nonfiction and an MFA candidate in the Northeast Ohio MFA program. He lives in Cleveland with his wife, Amaya, their son, Roscoe, and their pets, Hawking, Darwin, Copernicus, and Galileo. His master’s thesis, We Are Not as Manly as We Pretend, is a collection of essays in which the author questions gender norms on the way to defining his personal concept of manhood.
First, it’s icing. And it must go immediately. You take a bite out of that thing without removing the icing, you’re gonna come up looking like you’ve got a nasty cold. Then everyone’s laughing at you. Social interaction will not allow for the pleasure of icing and cake joined together in masticated harmony. But icing is the only reason cupcakes exist. They are crumbly little stumps on which to present sugary whisps of goodness. So lick off the frosting, and do your best to choke down that dry cake on the bottom.
I plan to continue work on a project I began in the NEOMFA, that looks to be developing into a book. It centers on the creation of one of my favorite childhood toys and the man who invented it. It also discusses the evolution of toy companies in the 20th century, and asks how much parents should rely on toys and popular media when they can’t give their children their full attention. Ultimately, it’s a story about my relationships with my father, my brother, and my son.
Your most awkward moment with a famous writer?
A few years ago, when I heard Viet Thanh Nguyen was coming to the Lannan series in Santa Fe, I rushed to finish reading his novel, The Sympathizer. As I read, I kept an eye out for aspects of his writing I might ask him about when we met. But the only thing that stood out to me was the odd way he incorporated dialogue in the text. Not only did he not use quotation marks, but he often had more than one character speaking in the same paragraph without any indication of when one person’s dialogue ended and the other began. Somehow, I doubted telling Nguyen his dialogue was confusing would endear him to me.
At the event, Nguyen spoke on stage with Maxine Hong Kingston. When she mentioned he used to fall asleep in her class, he responded with great humility. He seemed to have a good sense of humor. Maybe, I thought, I could kid around with him about his dialogue after all. After the reading, I handed him my book, then casually asked, so what do you have against quotation marks? Quotation marks are actually a Western convention, he said, straightening up, lips tightening as he swirled his pen on the page. Clearly, his sense of humor didn’t extend to discussing his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. I scrambled to do damage control. Not that it got in the way of enjoying your book. Thank you, he said, then waved over the next person in line.