Interview with Arkansas International (September 2016)
“I don’t ever think about likeability or unlikeability. I think about want, need, desire, grievance, and preoccupation. Sometimes I think that one result is that the stories can become something of a Rorschach inkblot test – different readers respond differently to different narrators, and it might say as much about the reader as it does about the narrator.”
Conversations about Praying Drunk
Buzzfeed Interview with Michele Filgate (April 2014)
“A lot of readers ask about violence, and sometimes it’s a welcome question, and sometimes it’s really not a question at all, but instead it’s a complaint from somebody who has been privileged enough to lead a life that hasn’t had a lot of first-hand intersection with violence. Well, I grew up in a world in which violence was always near at hand, and you didn’t have to go looking for it. It would come to you, and the best you could do was try to avoid it for as long as you could. I think that’s actually true for more people in the world than it is not true, but our American writing situation maybe doesn’t hold to those proportions, because in order to get the time and help you need to get good at making sentences, you need money or education or access or something, and all of those things are easier to find if you had them to begin with. But if you had them to begin with, your life was maybe a little more abstracted from the world of trouble, which is, it turns out, so violent. So you have the luxury of being squeamish, or of saying you don’t want to look at that, or even telling other people that something is wrong with them because they aim to actually represent the world as it is, in its wholeness, which includes such violence. I wish it weren’t so.”
KBOO-Portland Audio Interview with David Naimon (aired April 2014)
“Somebody is legitimately chasing a question through time, and the answer is going to be, in part or in whole, significantly different from what it would have been when you started. A short story is not usually a thing that operates outside a consciousness. It is the most important thing in the world to somebody. That’s why it’s important enough to be told. If it’s the most important thing in the world to somebody, and they are thinking about it all the time, it is probably going to lead to something. The story can almost always bear more [interiority] than the ’80’s minimalist model suggests it can.”
“The other problem was that I came from a people that had pretty much zero literary and intellectual tradition, other than what was borrowed from the Jews or the King James Bible, that five-century-old thing. My way out was writers like Isaac Bashevis Singer, Philip Roth, and Cynthia Ozick, because there was enough of a shared common ground, because of my religious education, but they were doing something with it. What fundamentalist Christianity does is it teaches you to reduce everything to a pre-approved answer. And what literature does is, it asks you to complicate and abstract everything as much as possible. To not be satisfied with the story that you’ve received or that you’re supposed to be telling yourself about how the world is, but to replace that with a story that’s more true, and probably more difficult, that experience has revealed.”
Believer Interview with Matt Bell (February 2014)
“As it turns out, that stuff is weird, and alien to an audience of any sophistication, and therefore interesting and useful as material. But you can’t know how weird your own life is until you get some distance on it. Everything seems mundane or boring or embarrassingly small. In my case, I felt like my people weren’t worth taking seriously, because the culture I was coming to admire didn’t take them seriously. But everyone was wrong. Everyone outside of that community should have taken all of that stuff seriously, and one consequence of not taking it seriously was that a fringe wing of the Republican Party made token overtures, flattered a little, gave lip service to a few closely-held pet ideas, and then harnessed the organizational power and the sheer numbers of the people I’d heard yammering all my life, and suddenly they weren’t impotent anymore. Suddenly they were being used, and the ultimate use was the empowerment of the Bush Administration to completely remake American foreign and economic and social policy and to turn it in a disastrous direction, a trouble that has not been undone by the popular backlash that followed, and probably won’t be undone for a long time, because once people get power, they find ways to entrench themselves in power, to make it hard for others to take that power away.”
Tin House Interview with Andrew Ervin (February 2014)
“Maybe we live in a time in which “place” is a harder thing to define in a literary way, because the world has become so mobile and interconnected, and because at the same time so much of so many of our lives will be spent in sub-spaces, sub-places, which have their own rules, and those of us who are mobile among sub-spaces alter our behavior as we move among them, if nothing else so that we can be understood and function and avoid being kept from what we want or need, and those of us who stay put in a single sub-space are often confused by the social milieu inside the house next door or the building down the street. When my first book, In the Devil’s Territory, was published, I was interviewed by a reporter from the Palm Beach Post, and I knew from the tone of his questions that the Palm Beach County I was writing about was very different from the Palm Beach County of his imagination, even though it was the place where he lived and worked and also the place where I had spent my entire childhood. I could tell he was thinking about the Palm Beach of power, Boca Raton and Jupiter Island, Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago and the Kennedy compound, the wintering people from New York and old money Europe, the movie stars and the Porsches and the surfers at Carlin Park. I had written about the Southern Baptists across from the dog track who believed in the rapture, the creationist people who had built the Christian school in order to keep their children from going to school with black children in the era of forced integration, the elderly people who lived in the trailer parks thirty miles west of the Intracoastal Waterway, who had been brought to town in their youth to dig wells and ditches and canals for the mansions and the golf courses on the other side of the water. White people whose parents and grandparents talked with Southern accents, and whose children sorted themselves along the class divide by choosing whether or not to continue to talk with Southern accents, and who negotiated varying degrees of uneasy distance from or increasing closeness to neighbors newly arrived from Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Honduras, or Guatemala.”
Fiction Writers Review Interview with Ben Stroud (February 2014)
“William Faulkner once wrote a letter to Malcolm Cowley in which he said: ‘I don’t care much for facts, am not much interested in them, you can’t stand a fact up, you’ve got to prop it up, and when you move to one side a little and look at it from that angle, it’s not thick enough to cast a shadow in that direction.'”
Hobart Interview with Douglas Watson (January 29, 2014)
“I’m with Zadie Smith: Literature is a big tent. There’s room for all sorts of things, and I’d rather spend my time on the stuff that brings me great pleasure, and allow for the likelihood that the other stuff brings great pleasure to other people, and hooray, I say, for pleasure.”
PEN/American PEN Ten Interview with Lauren Cerand (July 9, 2014)
“I came late to literature and to writing, in part because I was raised in a Southern fundamentalist community that didn’t value either. I didn’t read anything other than one novel each from Faulkner and Hemingway until I was twenty-four. Kurt Vonnegut was my gateway drug. After I found Slaughterhouse-Five, I read all his other books straight through, in chronological order. Then I did the same with Don DeLillo, then Toni Morrison, then John McPhee, then James Baldwin, then Milan Kundera, then Philip Roth. By then I had learned enough about other writers that I could start to read one book at a time. It was a backwards education to be sure.”
Conversations with Other Writers about their Writing
“How Do You Live in a World That’s Not the World You Thought It Was?,” a conversation with Brian Evenson, Tin House (online feature), February 11, 2016.
“Pain Can Recalibrate Your Life,” a conversation with Aaron Gwyn, The Believer Logger, July 14, 2014.
“A Conversation with Ben Stroud,” Fiction Writers Review, July 22, 2013.
“A Thimblerig of Time,” a conversation with Andrew Sean Greer, Tin House (online feature), July 8, 2013.
“A Conversation with Deb Olin Unferth,” HTMLGiant, January 2011.
“A Conversation with Pinckney Benedict,” The Rumpus, June 2010.
“Against Answers,” a conversation with Christopher Higgs, HTMLGiant, March 2010.
“Beckett in New Jersey,” a conversation with Justin Taylor, The Rumpus, November 2009.
“A Conversation with Lawrence Weschler,” an interview, The Journal, Fall 2006. (reprinted in The Rumpus)