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Posts Tagged ‘Gordon Lish’

Christine Schutt on Nightwork

May 29, 2015 | by

My First Time” is a new video series in which we invite authors to discuss the trials of writing and publishing that first novel, that first play, that first book of poems. Consider it a chance to see how successful writers got their start, in their own words—it’s a portrait of the artist as a beginner and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.

We conclude our first installment today with Christine Schutt, whose first collection of stories, Nightwork, appeared in 1996, when she was forty-eight; John Ashbery said it was the best book of the year. Here, Schutt recalls her early attempts at writing, in her twenties, and the feedback she invariably received: “You can write very beautiful sentences and beautiful descriptions, but it may take you twenty years to figure out how to do a story ... I thought, Twenty years, my god! I’d be in my forties!”

Be sure to watch the three other “My First Time” interviews we’ve posted this week:

Later this summer, we’ll introduce the next chapter in the series; this trailer gives a preview of what’s to come.

This series is made by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling; we’re delighted to collaborate with them.

Dear Mr. Jarecki

March 23, 2015 | by

How Gordon Lish’s first novel anticipated The Jinx.


From the paperback cover of Dear Mr. Capote.

Like every other sentient being with an HBO subscription, I’ve been riveted by the layers of mendacity, hypocrisy, voyeurism, manipulation, deception, dysfunction, and psychopathology on display in The Jinx. Robert Durst is as compelling a creep as has ever appeared on an LED screen; he seems like a character sprung from Patricia Highsmith’s dark imagination. (The Talented Mister Durst?) Andrew Jarecki, with his distinctly Mephistophelean facial hair, gives off his own aroma of brimstone. As I watched the series—rapt, but with a queasy feeling of complicity—I felt I’d encountered something like this before. Then I remembered what it was: Gordon Lish’s skilled, twisted, and exceptionally prophetic first novel, Dear Mr. Capote (1983).

The self-proclaimed “Captain Fiction,” Lish is most famous and/or notorious today for his writing classes, which more resembled EST sessions than workshops, and his hyperactive editorial pencil—which, depending on your point of view, either butchered or rescued much of Raymond Carver’s fiction. By 1983, Lish was riding high as an editor at Knopf, but through most of the seventies he’d been the fiction editor of Esquire, where he had almost single-handedly engineered a sea change in the style and substance of American short fiction, publishing the work of such minimalists as Carver, Joy Williams, Mary Robison, and Amy Hempel. Lish also convinced Truman Capote to publish the first two installments in his long bruited-about novel-in-progress, Answered Prayers. Capote had bragged that it would be his American answer to Proust, and the first of the chapters to appear, in June 1975, “Mojave,” received rapturous praise. Buoyed by this response, he gave Esquire another chapter to publish later that year, the incendiary and staggeringly impolitic “La Cote Basque, 1965,” which spilled a dump truck’s worth of dirt on his high-society friends and exiled him from the fancy circles and acquaintances he had so assiduously cultivated. Its publication sent Capote’s career into a terminal tailspin, perhaps the most disastrous miscalculation by a major writer in our literary history. Lish, too, has his Mephistophelian side. Read More »

All Aboard for Collectivists, and Other News

June 23, 2014 | by


A portrait of Ayn Rand. Illustration: Manuelredondoduenas, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Gordon Lish, at eighty, lives literally in the dark, because of his psoriasis: “His apartment is a crepuscular chamber, largely unchanged since his wife died more than a decade ago. With his heavy knit sweater and wild white hair, which culminates in a braid, he wanders these rooms looking like some cross between an old fisherman and King Lear … The problem with Lish is that he is all over the place. That also happens to be the best thing about him.”
  • “I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail.” Flannery O’Connor hated Ayn Rand
  • … and Rand loved trains. More specifically, she loved to write about morally unworthy people dying in fiery train crashes: “The doomed include everyone from a lawyer who feels he can ‘get along under any political system,’ to ‘an elderly schoolteacher who had spent her life turning class after class of helpless children into miserable cowards’ because they believed in the will of the majority …”
  • Borges: not a World Cup fan. “Soccer is popular,” he once said, “because stupidity is popular.”
  • Further evidence that writing may be, you know, creative: scientists tracked “the brain activity of both experienced and novice writers … The inner workings of the professionally trained writers in the bunch, the scientists argue, showed some similarities to people who are skilled at other complex actions, like music or sports.”


Cinema’s Most Realistic Psychopath, and Other News

January 17, 2014 | by

anton chigurh

Still from No Country for Old Men, 2007.



Beautiful Books, and Other News

November 19, 2012 | by

  • Stationer Mr. Boddington’s Studio does a series of whimsical Penguin Classics covers.
  • Raymond Carver’s OkCupid profile, as edited by Gordon Lish.
  • “On the Kindle, each screen shot floats in space, isolated from the previous or subsequent ones, an effect that left my memory of the book weirdly nebulous.” The challenges of reviewing on the Kindle.
  • Five books on anxiety.
  • Mr. Roth hasn’t given up writing entirely. He is collaborating on a novella, via e-mail, with the 8-year-old daughter of a former girlfriend.”


    Gary Lutz on ‘Divorcer’

    December 13, 2011 | by

    Gary Lutz is a wholly original writer of the short story. The first thing one notices are his startling sentences, like this one from the title story of his new collection, Divorcer: “It was in a dullard four-door with a brat of a rattling dashboard that I sometimes drove to, from, and through these places, then back to my wife and other things she was a baby about.” The sentences, and the stories, in collections such as Stories in the Worst Way, Partial List of People to Bleach, and I Looked Alive, are about sad men and women and their glancing and troubled interactions with the world. Men look for love in public bathrooms and find solace in women’s clothing; relationships inevitably falter and die, leaving behind regretful and longing ex-lovers. In his best work, Lutz displays an innate understanding of the grim compromises of modern life but heightens and glorifies these with his dizzying language. He refuses to let the dreary world force him to write a dreary sentence. I recently conducted this interview with him via e-mail.

    Your new collection, Divorcer, contains a number of stories about the ends and aftermaths of relationships. Did you set out to write a series of thematically linked stories?

    I had no expectation that these stories, written piecemeal, might one day mingle with one another in a book. It was Derek White, the extraordinary founder and editor of Calamari Press, who convinced me that the stories added up to something. The stories were written during stretches of four summers and the better half of an autumn. The longer pieces took months and months to finish, but one of the shorter entries, “Fathering,” was written in just one week—I’d challenged myself to come up with something quick.

    How do you feel this collection differs from your previous ones? To me, the stories seem a bit more narrative driven and perhaps more “accessible" than some of your previous work.

    I guess it’s more accessible, or at least a little less willfully disingratiating than my other books, which had more than a touch of solipsism. Even in the lengthier of these new stories, despite their elliptical and fragmentary nature, there is something at least approximating an ongoingness of a sort, if not exactly a plot.

    To what degree does your personal experience influence your stories?

    To no degree at all, practically. I suffer from E.D.—Experience Deficit. Not much has ever happened to me, and I have never had much luck in making anything happen myself. Anyway, my personal life seems off limits, even to me at the center of it. Somebody should sell pocket-size lifetime diaries with just a quarter-page for each entire year—I could surely get my money’s worth out of one of those. Read More »