‘Box Girl’ puts the art of survival in L.A. on display

Author Lilibet Snellings.
(Ramzi Dreessen / Soft Skull Press)

When Lilibet Snellings moved to Los Angeles at age 22, she quickly became a “slash”: a writer/editor/actress/model/waitress/Box Girl. One night every week, Snellings would go to the Standard Hotel in West Hollywood, put on a pair of white boy shorts and a matching tank top and crawl into a large glass box in the hotel lobby. While in the box, she could do whatever she wanted — write, check e-mails, read, listen to music — as long as she ignored the hotel guests who would curiously point at the human art installation in front of them.

In her memoir “Box Girl: My Part-Time Job as an Art Installation” (Soft Skull Press, $15.95 paper), Snellings describes the sometimes harsh realities that come with trying to make it work in Los Angeles, from being an extra in a Smirnoff Ice commercial to a dead person in a music video to a model in an oversized, waterless aquarium behind a hotel concierge desk.

Snellings chatted by phone about the rules (“Don’t touch the artwork in the box”), expectations (“Please wear undergarments”) and surprises that come with being a Box Girl. She will be reading from her book at Skylight Books at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

How did you strike a balance between depicting your experiences in the box and recounting your journey coming to Los Angeles?


That was a decision that I had made early on: to zoom in from inside the box and zoom out into my larger life in Los Angeles.

All of the “in the box” vignettes are in present tense, and everything else is in past tense. My thought was that I wanted it to feel immediate when you were in the box — that I was sitting there with my yellow legal pad actually writing down these observations as they were happening.

I thought that a fragmentary form was truer to the immediacy of being inside the box. And keeping those segments short was important — I wasn’t in there writing 15-page essays. I was writing, “Oh, my God, this guy is in the corner, waving his arms and doing something weird.”

When writers find themselves in unique situations, you often hear them say: This will lead to good writing material. At what point did you decide that you wanted to turn your experience into a book?

It started as a shorter piece and I tried to sell it to a couple of magazines, but this was right in the middle of the recession. No one ever picked it up, and I’m actually really happy that they didn’t. I was able to take that essay with me to my MFA program and work on it there in a memoir class. It evolved into my thesis, which then evolved into the manuscript.

For several years, you lived the life of a “slash.” Is this lifestyle still ever-present in L.A.?

It’s still so prevalent in L.A., and I think it’s because so many people come to L.A. wanting to be these very big things. ... People move to L.A. and think they’re going to book a commercial in six months or have a pilot in a year or be a series regular in two years. That dream might come true, but it will probably come true in five to 15 years, not one to two. To supplement those dreams, you have to do things like be a nanny, work at a restaurant or be an extra in a music video.

In total, how many years were you a Box Girl?

On and off for four years! In the beginning, I was doing it once a week — I was one of the main girls. When I went back to school, it morphed to once a month. Then I would just pick up shifts here and there.

By the time I was 29, I only did it twice that year, and it was when I was working on the manuscript about it. I wanted to go in there and pick up some more observations, remember how it smelled and add more layers of details. It was more of a fact-finding mission at the end for research.

The funny thing is, I still get texts from other Box Girls that will say, “Hey beautiful Box Girls! Does anyone want my shift on Thursday?” And it just makes me laugh so hard.

Elist is a “slash” in Los Angeles.