"I happened to read an article about a woman who discovered she was autistic in her thirties. Her list of signs hit me hard - because they were me."
Tuesday, December 5, 2023
book cover with woman in mask

Each semester, the Writing University hosts the 5Q Interview series with authors from the University of Iowa Press. We sit down with UI Press authors to ask about their work, their process, their reading lists and events. Today we are speaking with Amy Lee Lillard, author of A Grotesque Animal from UI Press.

Amy Lee Lillard is author of Dig Me Out. She received an Iowa Author Award in 2023 and was named one of Epiphany’s Breakout 8 Writers in 2018. She lives in Des Moines, Iowa.


Hello Amy!

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your new book A Grotesque Animal?  2. What was the inspiration for this work?

During the pandemic, I found myself doing something I'd never done: write nonfiction. I always focused on fiction before, feeling more comfortable with making up stories, or hiding true stories within fiction. But something was pushing me to write about things from my life. And while I was doing that, I happened to read an article about a woman who discovered she was autistic in her thirties. Her list of signs hit me hard - because they were me. That started a research deep dive, and a therapeutic assessment, that showed me at age 43 that I was autistic.

Besides changing the way I viewed my life and my history, this also showed me why I was writing nonfiction. I was working to understand myself, and reinterpret past experiences and traumas. The essays and stories that resulted became this book, which explores gender, class, sexuality and sex, abuse, generational trauma, bodies, disability, and so much more. All through the lens of misunderstanding, misdiagnosis, and missing agency.

3. Do you have any plans for readings or events for this book, either in person or virtual?

I do! On May 20, I'm doing a virtual event at Ampersand Books discussing my story collection, Exile in Guyville, which is coming out two weeks before A Grotesque Animal. And on June 5, I'm doing a live event at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines. 

4. What are you reading right now? Any books from other university or independent presses?

I just read Julia by Sandra Newman, which is a retelling of 1984 from the perspective of the main character's lover. It is brilliant: it adds to the world of Newspeak and Big Brother in wonderful ways, it views that totalitarian society through a gendered lens, and it goes beyond the original story to the only inevitable and gut-wrenching conclusion. 

5. What is your writing routine? Do you have a daily routine?

I have a full-time job in corporate communications which dictates much of my schedule. But I'm doing something writing-related every day, across multiple forms. Earlier this year I created a fiction podcast called Wyrd Woman, which meant writing and sound designing in a fascinating new way. I'm launching an audio literary magazine called Midwest Weird this summer, which means helping showcase and mold others' writing. I write and create music. And I'm in the early stages of a new fiction book. 


Thank you Amy!