Marya Spence

 April 2013, My Bed.

My Marya.

Where did you go to college? How do you feel about your memories and lessons learned there?

I went to Harvard College and studied English and American Literature there, specifically mid-century poets, like Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.

What was the last book you read?
I read unpublished manuscripts for a living — in the hopes of publishing them — so the last book I read would have been one that isn’t out yet. The one I’m thinking of is a very gorgeous, very dark, and very complicated novel by a young Zambian woman named Namwali Serpell. The book is about memory, the loss of innocence, and the regaining of love. I’m completely taken by her willingness to explore how lust and loss feed off of each other. I can barely remember what book I was last reading in published form, though….it must have been months ago. I am always picking up something, flicking through the pages, remembering what it felt like to read a particular passage for the first time. Certain parts of Nicole Krauss’s “Great House,” or J.M. Coetzee’s “Age of Iron,” or Sarah Manguso’s “The Guardians,” for example, can make me cry or fill me with wonder. Denis Johnson’s “Jesus’ Son” and Salinger’s short stories can make me laugh out loud or make my brain feel electric.
How do you know when something, anything is right?
Such a hard, good question. At this point in my life, I don’t know about being right anymore. I’m unsure of what value it holds, in the end. I was raised to believe that being right was paramount to all else; no matter the content or the significance, whatever comes out of your mouth must be rationally defensible. My father is a scientist and a professor. He would probably say something like, “Being right is simply a matter of asking the right questions.” My mother, being half-Chinese, has a hint of superstition about her, and though she doesn’t like to admit it, much of what she believes to be right is what she perceives to be beyond her control — the product of a higher force. I come from those people. But I guess that in my daily life, in the way that I move, act, react, embrace….I know something is right because I feel it in my body. If it’s art, it’s ‘right’ if it is WORKING on some level…and it’s working if it fills some space I never knew was there. A space for pleasure. Carves it out and fills it up, becoming an object of truth — simply by existing.
Tell me about your parents and how they have shaped who you are.
I’ve said a little about my parents. Their divorce shaped me, certainly. I was six and we had just moved to California. My mom raised me and my siblings as a single, hardworking mother — came home every night and cooked us dinner off the same sauce-splattered Xerox copies she’d torn from magazines in the 70s, when she was a newlywed. Before I learned union, I learned independence. There wasn’t a lot of emotional display in our family, mainly talk about ideas or politics or abstractions. Lots of heated arguments where you couldn’t let your feelings get hurt, because it was never really about you. I’m incredibly grateful to my parents for teaching me to value my mind and my ideas, and to show me how mental life is precious, rich and infinite. However, I also know that my biggest challenge as an adult is to learn the idea of ‘union.’ To forgive my own dependence. To allow myself to lean on others.

Who recently made you feel really good?

Just last night, I was jumping around on a bed; there was a thunderstorm out after a very hot day, and a friend and I were being silly, singing to The Strokes and talking about the best sandwich ingredients, whether they make walkie-talkies powerful enough for us to talk across the city, cracking jokes about pranks to play on our friends and describing haunted houses we’d been in. All of this made me feel like the best kind of kid again. A smarter, happier kid.


I sold a pair of highwaisted jeans to Marya in 2008. From what I gather, she’s never worn them. It was summer and the trend was there. Occasionally, I fully believe I was born in the wrong generation – 1970 seems more my jam. I digress…

Marya walked in and I was drawn to her lightness.

I was working at a little vintage shop called Sweet Tater – you heard, right… Sweet Tater. I worked for clothes. I was 22. On the rack was a perfect pair of blue, snipped-in jeans I couldn’t quite squeeze into. So, I thought, to this girl I will sell them. And I did. That day in the shop Marya and I talked of things other than just vintage apparel. We realized we studied the same subjects in college, both aspired to be writers and both had super blue eyes in which we were lost. Maybe this is a version of love in relation to ego, of which the theologians wrote? Nevertheless, a few years went by and instead of us planning encounters, the city forced us together. Grocery stores on the Upper East Side, park benches in SoHo, bars east of the Lower East Side and street corners in the East Village. I’m not joking, we were meant to be friends. We finally gave in and have become actual friends.

Growing up in different places with different childhoods, we have a lot to offer one another in the realm of friendship – experiences are valuable and important to personal development if implemented in a critical and sensible manner – and learning. What helps us is that we are able to learn from one another’s experiences. I value that in Marya. Empathy. She does this with many and I enjoy watching.

Marya is a reader and a talented writer and editor. Currently she is the assistant to a literary fiction agent at a global boutique agency and has written for and edited different publications including PAPER, Travel + Leisure, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Publishers Weekly, Metropolis, and more.

- Jen