When I’m struggling with my own work, I’m often drawn to biographies of writers. Not only do I learn fun facts about prominent figures — Henry James suffered terribly from constipation, Kafka chewed every bite of food 32 times, Flannery O’Connor cared for a flock of around 40 peacocks, Montaigne never saw his wife with her clothes off, Balzac fortified himself with a paste made of unroasted coffee beans — I’m also reminded that there’s no single path for living a successful creative or personal life.
Our own Edan Lepucki interviewed National Book Award finalists George Saunders and Rachel Kushner for the National Book Foundation. Saunders discussed money issues in his writing. “Now I feel like paucity vs. grace is one of the great American issues—we all live with it every day.” Kushner explained her writing process. “The sentences are beads on a string; I see each one as essential.”
"I’ve always thought Yunior’s voice isn’t possible without hip-hop," Junot Díaz says. He discusses how hip-hop influenced his writing, his top three albums (Immortal Technique’s Revolutionary Vol. 2., Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, and Big Daddy Kane’s Long Live the Kane), and even Miley Cyrus in an interview with Salon. Previously, we reported that he wrote his first book to the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack.
Landlord, patron, gardener, traveler— Elizabeth Gilbert is so much more than a memoirist. Steve Almond profiles Gilbert for The New York Times and finds out about her return to fiction with her new novel, The Signature of All Things. Yet Gilbert doesn’t disparage her Eat, Pray, Love fame and readers, even if others do. “I want to say: ‘Go [expletive] yourself! You have no idea who the women are who read my books, and if I have to choose between them and you, I’m choosing them.’”
When I was younger, I remember going around totally deluded by the idea that other people might, in fact, be geniuses or at least be able to express this in any intelligible fashion. The idea that you might do something radically brilliant—that assumption is very empowering and it has given the world a lot of really interesting things to look at. It’s a side effect of the cult of normality—the idea that it would be preposterous and perhaps undesirable to single yourself out in that way. I think that’s why a lot of stuff that basically amounts to breaking china is seen as being creative when, in fact, it’s as subservient to prevailing norms as anything else is, as obedience to them would be.
Jonathan Lethem thinks his work is taken too seriously. “Well, I was just watching Richard Pryor, and he says, ‘When you’re dating a white woman, and people don’t like it, you can’t really pretend. You can’t go, “Oh, she’s not with me.”’ ‘You write the big, ambitious books, right?’ Well, I guess they are,” he said in an interview with Salon. He also discusses being equated with Jonathan Franzen and his new novel, Dissident Gardens.
I write against things, I suppose, and the thing that doesn’t interest me is gathering a cabal of people exactly like yourself to read what you write. The thing which I like about my writing—I don’t know if it’s a symptom of its generalness or whatever—but I have old ladies e-mail me, or write to me, more likely, who are age eighty-five and then I have very young people: sixteen, seventeen. I like the idea that the writing has no precise identity. It doesn’t block people, it doesn’t force them to think, ‘Oh, this is me in a very precise way.’