In conversation with Calla Henkel



Calla Henkel is a woman of many talents. She's a writer, playwright, director, and artist who lives and works in Berlin. Her work with fellow artist Max Pitegoff has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. Calla and Max established their performance group New Theater in 2013, in a converted storefront in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood. I highly recommend checking out this interview they did with the Whitney Museum of Art

Henkel currently operates a bar, performance space, and film studio called TV in Berlin. Her debut novel, Other People's Clothes, was released to critical acclaim. Named one of the most anticipated books of the year by the Washington Post, Time, Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, and many other publications. The New York Times said it was “Hugely entertaining,” while Kirkus stated that it was “Absorbing and electric” in their starred review. 

Calla is joining me on AD today to talk about her debut, the striking jacket designed by Emily Mahon, some of her favourite spots in Berlin, and her most recent read.

Calla Henkel by Max Pitegoff

Calla, I’m thrilled to chat with you today. How has your life changed since the release?

It's lovely to chat with you! And in all honesty, my life hasn’t changed very much. I run a bar in Berlin called TV, and I think that it has a very stabilizing effect on my time. The bar is open three days a week, and is like this electric current that keeps me plugged into the world here. But it has been very gratifying to have the book banging around the universe and hearing how people connect with the story.

The novel, which is richly atmospheric, is set in Berlin. Where did you draw the inspiration for your main characters?

Like Hailey and Zoe in Other People’s Clothes, I also went abroad to Berlin in 2008 to study art. I even moved into a coal heated flat of a well-known writer with my best friend, but we were of course not being watched, and no one ended up dead. I think for me there was a lot of joy in taking this very real timeline and filling it with pulp, and the character’s themselves turned into kaleidoscopic and unrecognizably camp versions of friends of mine.

The jacket design is striking. Designed by Art Director Emily Mahon, who’s also known for designing Paul Mendez’s Rainbow Milk. What did the design process look like?

I feel so insanely lucky to have gotten to work with Emily, and the cover feels completely right. It was very much her vision, and in the end, my only thing was I wanted to punch up the Warhol factor which she did through adding the red lipstick and the lilac which Warhol used in his Marilyn Monroe silkscreens.

US / UK design by Emily Mahon

You currently operate a bar, performance space and film studio called TV in Berlin. What brought you to that job?

A large part of my art practice with my collaborative partner Max Pitegoff is running social spaces, and over the years we’ve run several bars and theaters. TV bar, our current space, is located in Schöneberg and open for drinks Thursday through Saturday, and often hosts performances and dyke nights. But during the week Max and I use it as a fictional bar set for our TV show, Paradise, which we shoot on 16 mm. Paradise takes place in the near future and is a meta narrative for the actual bar, using many of our regulars and bartenders as actors.

I’ve never been to Berlin, but I was born and raised in the UK, and it’s on my bucket list. What’s an ideal day out in the city? Best bookshops, cafes, and stores. 

Well, firstly, come in the Spring or Summer. Winter is absolutely miserable. The ideal Spring day starts with a long walk, maybe through Tiergarten or Glesidreick, then maybe a stop at Hopscotch Books in Schöneberg. Once I had my reading material I would probably grab a pizza at Il Casolare on the canal, then have a beer at a gay bar in Kreuzberg. And if the stars aligned on this ideal day, Eric D. Clark would be djing at Paloma Bar, and there would be dancing.

As a writer, I imagine you must read a lot. What’s your favourite book and why? 

It is impossible to name a singular favorite book, but I recently read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, and it really amazed me. I am working on a new novel with a character who is obsessed with true crime, which is what brought me to finally cracking open In Cold Blood. My socks were knocked off, it’s such a dark and dementedly well told story.

Canadian paperback edition, published by Sceptre

Other People's Clothes by Calla Henkel is available to purchase in paperback format from Indigo or in e-book and audiobook format from Kobo. Check GoodReads for additional retailers.