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Meet Your New Neighbors: An Interview with DW Gibson

May 21, 2015 | by

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DW Gibson. Photo: Chiara Barzini

In cities, trends come, go, and come again; causes rise to prominence, fall by the wayside, and emerge repackaged; neighborhoods flourish or fall out of favor. Condos, cupcake shops, and bike lanes become signifiers; shady buyouts and racist landlords fuel arguments about whether communities are being renewed or decimated.

The word gentrification is in the subtitle of DW Gibson’s most recent oral history, but the author has trouble with it: it’s too broad, he writes, to adequately capture a wide variety of experiences, contexts, and meanings. Several interviewees in his book also seem at odds with the word. One says gentrification doesn’t describe anything in the real world. Another says he doesn’t need to be able to describe it because he knows what it feels like.

To mark the release of The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the 21st Century, I spoke with Gibson, a journalist and documentary filmmaker, about bringing the human touch to the page, viewing a book as one long panning shot in a film, and the importance of using all the tools at one’s disposal, including cute daughters.

How do you make gentrification something people want to read about?

Most of the books out there are academic or have an academic feel to them. I think the way you get people to care about gentrification is to write about human beings. My goal was to show the human fabric of gentrification. People relate to people, to stories. Read More »

Our Thing: An Interview with Paul Beatty

May 7, 2015 | by

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Photo: Hannah Assouline

Paul Beatty’s recurring themes—race and tribalism, human psychology, ambition and failure, and the haunting presence of history—are the heavy ones. But he moves through them with light steps, his precisely choreographed Southern California meander broken by exuberant outbursts of buck dancing and the occasional disemboweling. His early poetry and his first novel, The White Boy Shuffle, opened up expansive new territory for writers trying to build an alternative literature, one that found its energy and idiom outside of the traditional American literary complex. But he has always belonged only to himself, unrushed and unburdened by any scene or movement.

I first encountered his work through the Nuyorican Poetry scene in the nineties. I remember feeling that wash of recognition and estrangement that certain books conjure—I was surprised by the familiarity of the voice, and thrilled by the weird, reckless shit it was saying. Paul seemed to come from the world I knew, a world filled with outsiders and cultural polymaths but still thick with the strange incense of African American life—where Amiri Baraka was a comedian, Kurt Vonnegut was black, and Ice Cube was an arch satirist. It was life-changing to see that world animated by Paul’s particular offbeat, backtracking, culture-swallowing genius. Beatty writes laceratingly funny books that often turn on the subject of race, but more than that, his novels are flares sent up—for anyone who happens to be looking—that illuminate the persistent and irreducible feelings that rumble in our deepest places. They’re about hope and failure and loss, the absurdity of systems and the loneliness of being our own weird selves. And they’re about the beautiful consolation of seeing it, really seeing it, in all its pain and nothingness, and laughing.

Paul’s latest novel, The Sellout, comes at an interesting moment in the eternal—and eternally recycled—American “conversation on race.” The protests that have broken out across the country over police violence have had a powerful undercurrent of black humor. My Twitter feed is illustrated with wild, vivid scenes that would be right at home in a Beatty novel: Newsman Jake Tapper in Ferguson for ABC News with a protestor behind him holding up a sign: IS IT OPEN SEASON ON A NIGGA’S ASS???????; CNN reporters getting their microphones jacked midinterview by angry protestors; a (probably doctored) photo of a young black boy riding a hijacked police horse away from the scene of a riot. Years ago, Beatty identified the source of this sort of dark comedy. “African Americans,” he wrote in one of his section introductions for Hokum, “like any other Americans, are an angry people with fragile egos. Humor is vengeance. Sometimes you laugh to keep from crying. Sometimes you laugh to keep from shooting … black folk are mad at everybody, so duck, because you’re bound to be in someone’s line of fire.”

Paul and I had a long talk in front of a single cup of coffee at a café in the East Village. That wide-ranging, candid interview was cursed by the gods of Cupertino and lost forever. Paul, being a mensch, agreed to meet me again at a different East Village café, and just as he started to open up about the path of his career, we were interrupted—our quiet café hosted a comedy night. We fled to yet another café, where we had this conversation. Read More »

Good World to Be In: An Interview with Lisa Yuskavage

April 29, 2015 | by

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Lisa Yuskavage in her studio, Brooklyn, New York. Photo by EJ Camp, courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London

Since her arrival on the art scene some twenty-five years ago, Lisa Yuskavage has made a name for herself with paintings that use classical techniques to depict unabashedly taboo subjects. Her creations—awash in radiant, hallucinatory colors and featuring hedonistic heroines unlike anything else in art today—are instantly identifiable. Her latest show, which opened last week at David Zwirner in New York, explores the idea of the incubus and succubus, and includes images of men—Dude Looks Like Jesus, for instance—a first for the artist. “I was thinking a lot about Dürer,” she says. “There’s this obsession with a certain look, which has to do with a revolutionary kind of guy.”

I met Yuskavage, who is fifty-two, at her spacious Brooklyn studio earlier this month, where our talk touched on a variety of subjects, including her process, her past, and her experimentation with Grindr, the gay dating app. We’d intended to take a trip to her favorite bookstore, Ursus Books, afterward, but we stayed at her studio instead, conversing as pale yellow light crept along the floor.

When critics discuss your work, they talk a lot about gaze—whether the figures depicted are inviting us to look or whether we’re intruding upon something private.

It’s interesting because in order to make some of these paintings of men, I did something a few years ago—I didn’t realize why I was doing it at the time. I joined Grindr. I had a Grindr persona. You didn’t think I was going to say that today, did you?

Do you remember your username?

I don’t remember, but I eventually took it down when I almost hooked up with someone. I met someone by accident. My husband has a very nice body, and I took a picture of his torso. He had pants on. I didn’t want to be that vulgar, because I didn’t want to present myself as being just interested in sex.

So I was at Le Pain Quotidien on Bleecker Street having my stupid vegan soup. I was looking at Grindr and imagining the Dionysian possibilities of life. It seemed like the air was full of sex. Not just sex, but hopefulness. Then I see that there’s someone who, whatever you call it, poked me or tapped me. He was ten feet away. I was like looking around and then I saw someone looking around. He was looking for me, and he couldn’t find me because I didn’t exist! Read More »

Translating Knausgaard: An Interview with Don Bartlett

April 28, 2015 | by

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From the cover of the American edition of My Struggle: Book Four.

The fourth of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume autobiographical mega-novel, My Struggle, releases today. But Knausgaard writes in Norwegian, and most of us are reading My Struggle in English. For this we must thank the translator Don Bartlett, who has spent much of the past four years transposing Knausgaard’s Norwegian into an addictive, lively English.

I recently had a chance to discuss My Struggle with Bartlett, who, as the book’s translator, is surely one of Knausgaard’s closest, most dedicated readers on Earth. He has been over every single word in the first four books of My Struggle several times; he has weighed commas and clauses like gold; he has scoured for the right voice for Knausgaard in English. Bartlett, who lives in England, was able to tell me fascinating things about My Struggle—among them, some of the differences between how Knausgaard sounds in Norwegian and English, why Knausgaard seems to sound a tiny bit British in the U.S. editions of My Struggle, and his own theories about why the novels have proven such a success in English.

When did you first encounter My Struggle?

I went to a panel discussion in London with three Norwegian writers, led by someone I knew was clued up on Norwegian literature. Afterward, I talked to Karl Ove and asked him what he was working on. He said he had just written five—I think it was five—novels. I asked him what about. He said, with a laugh, Myself.Read More »

The Afterlife of the Voice: An Interview with Peter Gizzi

March 16, 2015 | by

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Last year saw the publication of In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems 1987–2011, a significant retrospective of the work of poet Peter Gizzi. Gizzi—who also has three poems in the latest issue of The Paris Reviewhimself selected and arranged In Defense, which not only samples nearly twenty-five years of his poems but finds a new order and a new context for them—both for Gizzi and for his readers. The titles of his earlier books provided points of location and navigation. His first collection, Periplum (1992), takes its title from an Ezra Pound line about a journey, and the notion of the poem as a journey is something Gizzi has carried throughout his career. The Outernationale (2007), his fifth collection, gives a sense of the landscape these journeys cross—at once internal and external, subjective and universal. In Defense of Nothing, which will be published in paperback in April, was recently named a finalist for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

I spoke with Gizzi by phone about assembling the volume. At the beginning of our conversation, I told him that we had met once years before, at an event, and that after our conversation he had given me the copy of Artificial Heart from which he had been reading. He couldn’t remember our interaction, but for him, that individual connection—between the poet and the poem, the poem and the reader, and the reader and the poet—is the heart of the poetic experience.

What does it mean to assemble a selected-poems volume, and how does a project like this begin?

It began as a conversation with my editor of fifteen or more years, and now my dear friend, Suzanna Tamminen. She has a good sense of my work and she knew there had been a lot of changes in my life, some difficult, and that I was taking stock, as it were. So she proposed that I do a selected poems.

Did you learn more about what that means over the course of the project?

I’ve discovered there are several versions of Peter Gizzi. Over the course of this book there is the Peter Gizzi who lived in New York City, the Peter Gizzi who lived in the Berkshires, in Providence, in California, in Amherst, and so on. I learned that twenty-five years of life accumulate, as does one’s work. And yet I found that there is an uncanny consistency to the variety and reality of address in my poetry in whatever form I happen to be working—small lyric, series, long form, prose poem. It was illuminating to me simply because my inner life can be a turbulent experience, and I live one poem at a time and one book at a time. Read More »

New Lovers: An Interview with Paul Chan

March 10, 2015 | by

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Paul Chan is best known as a multimedia artist, writer, and activist, but in 2010 he added publisher to his long list of achievements when he founded Badlands Unlimited, an imprint with a mission that embraced changes in the way books are created and circulated: “We make books in an expanded field.” Chan’s modest house boasts a list rich in writing and ideas. In its brief history, it’s published, among others, Calvin Tomkins’s collected interviews with Marcel Duchamp, Yvonne Rainer’s poems, Saddam Hussein’s speeches on democracy, and a monograph of curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist’s notes and hand-drawn diagrams.

This year, Chan and his Badlands coconspirators—Ian Cheng, Micaela Durand, and Matthew So—launched the first three titles of New Lovers, a series of erotic novels written by women for a new generation’s sexual imagination. In Lilith Wes’s We Love Lucy, a young woman throuples up with her best friend and his boyfriend; Wednesday Black’s How to Train Your Virgin tells of a queen in a colorful, fantastic realm who tries to win back the lust of her king; and in God, I Don’t Even Know Your Name, Andrea McGinty tracks a young artist’s worldwide sexual adventures after she begins using a new dating app called Bangly. In short, the books are intended to be colorfully hot reads for the thinking pervert.

I met with Chan to talk about New Lovers a few weeks ago in his airy, light-filled studio in Industry City, Brooklyn. He and his team were in the final stages of completing work for “Nonprojections for New Lovers,” Chan’s solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, organized in honor of his winning the 2014 Hugo Boss Prize. To my surprise, Chan was utterly cool and calm considering the coming storm.

Badlands Unlimited largely publishes art books. How does erotica fit into your mission?

From the very beginning, one of the models for Badlands has been Maurice Girodias’s Olympia Press, which was one of the craziest, most vanguard presses out there. They funded themselves selling erotica. A year and a half ago, we published a political romance inspired by Michele Bachmann by the poet Trey Sager. It was called Fires of Siberia, and we had a lot of fun doing it. So we thought, Why not explicitly use the model of Olympia Press to do a series of erotic romance books? We’ll focus on women writers, publish them as paperbacks and e-books, and see what we get.

Why focus on women writers?

They write better erotica. We read some manuscripts written by men. We didn’t like them. Read More »

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