Jill Di Donato is a 34 year old writer, professor, producer . She lives in Brooklyn, New York, United States.
DS: What are the most memorable years of your life and what happened to make them so memorable?
Jill Di Donato: It’s cliché, but coming-of-age was pretty indelible. Being a teenager in 90s NYC was an incredible ride. My high school, St. Ann’s, was really top-notch and creative in an off-the-grid way. I might not have graduated knowing state capitals, but I was an expert in both Rousseau’s (Jean-Jacques and Henri). I was 16, 17, going to clubs – Don Hills on Thursdays, NASA on Fridays and meeting all kinds of people. My best friend interned at Paper Magazine, and she got us into wild parties. We were heavy into the hot Supreme skater boys, shopped at the swankest LES boutiques and Salvation Armies, would get men to take us to expensive dinners, and then run off before the bill came. I’d go home, internalize the experience and write some crazy play for my playwriting class. If my material was too risqué to be performed by students, rather than censor my work, the school hired actors to perform it. That was pretty awesome.
It’s funny; this sounds a lot like my life now … yikes!
I have called myself a writer ever since I was five and had a poem published in a children’s magazine.
DS: Where were you born and where do you live now?
Jill Di Donato: Brooklyn, born and bred. I grew up in Park Slope, spent some time uptown, crashed in Chinatown and now have a place in Downtown Brooklyn. I’ve never lived any place other than NYC. But I will … someday.
DS: How would you best describe yourself?
Jill Di Donato: I definitely have my quirks, but who doesn’t? Honesty, loyalty, and family are really important to me.
DS: What are the must-haves in your daily wardrobe?
Jill Di Donato: 90% of the time I’m in a variation of this outfit: stretchy pants, riding boots, camisole, cashmere cardigan. I have a huge variety of stretchy pants, from Conway jeggings to Opening Ceremony’s Tron seamed leggings, cheap liquid leggings, (so cheesy!) to leather paneled riding pants from Veda NYC. Big sunglasses are a must, everyday, even in the rain. I’m all about accessories; my favorite is a Gucci fanny pack that only comes out on special occasions, but stays perched in my closet so I can eye it everyday. I’m a fan of Pamela Love jewelry, especially my sacred heart necklace for luck. I’ve tried heels, but am a boot and wedge girl, and when I wear jeans, (skinny or cigarette only) laceless Vans. I’m obsessed with Happy Socks, Hanky Panky underwear (I purged my underwear drawer so I only have pretty skivvies – so cathartic) and Victoria’s Secret Miraculous bra, which really lives up to its name. I have to wear it every day otherwise people would think I stuff.
DS: Who do people tell you you look like?
Jill Di Donato: My mother and grandmother – we all have very similar facial bone structure. As for celebs, I’ve gotten Zooey Deschanel (when my hair was longer) and Emily Watson. Each comparison is a huge compliment!
DS: What is the compliment you most frequently get?
Jill Di Donato: What I get the most is, “You’re too hard on yourself.” When you think about it, that’s a compliment, isn’t it?
The park at Union Square, early spring. Always a good time.
DS: How did you end-up being a writer, professor, producer ?
Jill Di Donato: I’ve called myself a writer ever since I was five and had a poem published in a children’s magazine. There’s VHS footage of me being interviewed by some TV reporter doing a profile of a kids’ writing program I was in. The reporter asks me if I want to be a writer, and I reply, “I am a writer.” But for years there was a huge struggle filled with merciless rejection, self-doubt and evisceration. Once I started publishing in literary journals, online, and then at The Huffington Post, got an agent for my novel Beautiful Garbage, which is soon to be published, I began to feel more legit. Teaching, I fell into. I wanted the scholarship in Columbia’s MFA program that required you teach in the undergraduate writing department. Plus, I liked the ring of professor. I can’t imagine not teaching now; I love my students.
DS: Can you tell us more about your job?
Jill Di Donato: I have many jobs, like that West Indian family In Living Color skit. As an adjunct English professor, I’m pretty much a university bitch – but some schools are kinder than others and actually offer handy things like health care. But I love relating with students, and let’s face it, hearing myself speak. It’s pretty amazing when I’m teaching a text I’ve read countless times and a student comes up with an insight I’ve not yet thought of. I write a sexual politics column on The Huffington Post, contribute regularly to the Women section, and my debut novel Beautiful Garbage is about an 80s artist-cum-call girl. This fall, I launched my arts and style blog also called Beautiful Garbage and I wrote and co-produced a short film based on my book Beautiful Garbage.
I'm wearing a Kanae & Onyx dress I bought in high school. It came with matching bell-bottom pants that by bff got to keep (I think I got the better deal). Shout out to Lizzie Dowling Kaupas!
DS: Let's talk more about you and your tastes. Any hobbies? What do you like to do in your free time? Any thing you like and recommend?
Jill Di Donato: This winter I got into snowboarding and swimming, and am now obsessed with both. I have a thing for Sunday brunches; fav spots include Lil’ Frankie’s, 'inoteca, Peels (amazing beer with hot sauce) and any place that will serve me liquor without judgment or sports on Sunday. Drunk shopping can lead to adventures, and so can checking out galleries on Chelsea row. I tinker with collage, using pornographic images, ephemera, and glitter, so galleries inspire me. It’s good to see the masters at the museums as well. I was so excited to see Picasso’s “Guitar” in person when it came to MoMA earlier this year. Now that it’s getting warmer, I need to do something outdoors and athletic, like garden, ride my bike or play a game of Shuttlecock (isn’t that the best game name ever?). I love Brooklyn Bridge Park. I once saw a man pull an eel 20 inches long onto the pier. Plus, you can get a scoop from the Brooklyn Bridge Ice Cream factory, bird-watch, and starting this year, kayak.
DS: What is a typical week for Jill Di Donato?
Jill Di Donato: Each day is different. When I’m teaching, I have back-to-back classes, and I’m running around between 3-4 universities. When I have a free hour, I’ll hit the pool, which is a university perk. On my non-teaching days, I either spend 8-10 hours writing in bed, fueled by green tea and my love for pillows. Or, I’ll scour the city for my blog or "research," which is a wonderful opportunity to meet interesting people. For example, there’s a priest in my new novel, so I went to the seminary on 20th and 21st Streets and Ninth Avenue and spent the afternoon with a minister-in-training, only blocks away from the debauchery of the Meat Packing District. A lot of times, I’ll do interviews or have important project meetings lit up at a bar; the other night I found myself in the dressing room at The Box at 2 AM interviewing my friend who’s a burlesque dancer, so the lines between work and play are fuzzy.
DS: Some quick questions: What is the first thing you do in the morning?
Jill Di Donato: Brew a pot of green tea. I like the ritual much better than microwaving a teabag in a mug of water.
DS: What is your favorite word?
Jill Di Donato: Calyx.
DS: What it your favorite quotation? Or make your own for posterity...
Jill Di Donato: Fake it till you make it.
DS: What is your favorite "drug"?
Jill Di Donato: A fresh half-hibiscus, half-jalapeño margarita followed by a shot of Super Echinacea with Goldenseal.
The photo shoot
DS: What magic power would you like to have if you could choose one?
Jill Di Donato: Invisibility.
DS: If not yourself, who would you be?
Jill Di Donato: I have a fantasy that I’m this forensic detective using nanotechnology to solve mysteries.
DS: What is in store for you? Any key projects for the next months? Anything you want to share? Can our readers help you with anything?
Jill Di Donato: I have a fantasy that I’m this forensic detective using nanotechnology to solve mysteries.But that's never going to happen. I’m writing my second novel, (which is twist on the mystery genre, and involves solving a crime) trying to publicize my blog, and looking for funding to turn my mini-movie Beautiful Garbage into a feature. Patrons, anyone? Anyone? I’m an excellent cook and gardener.
DS: Anything you want to add to close this interview?
Jill Di Donato: I do want to say that I think writing saved me. Imagination can be a blessing and a curse. When you create something, you get to be the architect of your own world, and the process can help soothe the fact that lots of fucked up things are going down in our world. I had to find some way to categorize experiences, make sense of the craziness rather than sit idle. As a child, I was very attuned to things, and now that I’m grown I don’t necessarily want to lose that, but also can’t lose my mind. Being creative isn’t therapy, it’s work, but it’s also, to quote Aristotle, cathartic.
My website, where you can find my blog, the mini-movie and other goodies is www.jilldidonato.com, my HuffPo column is http://tinyurl.com/Jill-Huff-Po. You can also contact me directly here.
DS: Thank you Jill Di Donato
Jill Di Donato: PEACE.