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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Bowles’

Finding the Question That Hasn’t Been Asked: An Interview with Lynne Tillman

September 11, 2014 | by

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Lynne Tillman, Second Avenue, New York City, 2013. Photograph: Mark Alice Durant.

Writing a short introduction about Lynne Tillman isn’t easy; her singular and visionary writing covers a great deal of territory. The author of twelve books, she is adept at fiction, short and long essays, cultural critique, and interviews. A sampling of just three of her books conveys the scope of her work: her novel American Genius: A Comedy follows the obsessive inner monologue of a single character for almost three hundred pages; This Is Not It is a compendium of twenty years of witty and risky novellas and short stories, some as short as a paragraph; and Bookstore: The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson and Books & Co. weaves together the voices of Susan Sontag, Fran Lebowitz, Paul Auster, Calvin Trillin, and many others to tell not just the story of the rise and fall of the iconic, well-loved Books & Co. but that of the changing landscape of publishing.

Her new book, What Would Lynne Tillman Do?, is a collection of recent essays—on Andy Warhol’s a: A Novel, on the lives and work of Paul and Jane Bowles, and on Edith Wharton and architecture, to name just a few—and interviews with Harry Mathews, Paula Fox, Lebanese-American writer and visual artist Etel Adnan, and German painter Peter Dreher. Each piece, whether essay or interview, is illuminated by Tillman’s wit, intellect, and curiosity. When the book was released earlier this year, Jason Diamond of Flavorwire declared 2014 to be “the year of Lynne Tillman.”

I spoke with Lynne Tillman at the New School, as part of the university’s Summer Writers Colony. Fiction and nonfiction students had spent three days reading What Would Lynne Tillman Do? and the questions I posed reflected their curiosity, as well as my own, regarding the processes and practices that allow her to transition easily between genres. Tillman was eager to answer, and the qualities that characterize her writing shone through in her answers.

In your 2009 essay, “Doing Laps Without a Pool,” you write, “I don’t want to take a position. Not taking a position is a position that acknowledges the inability to know with absolute surety, that says: Writing is like life, there are many ways of doing it, survival depends on flexibility. Anything can be on the page. What isn’t there now?” All those interesting negatives—“not taking a position,” “the inability to know,” “what isn’t there now”—reminded me of Keats’s famous letter in which he used the term negative capability. When you begin to build an essay, do you feel as if you’re exploring what you don’t know, precisely because you don’t know? Or do you begin with a firm idea or a mystery that you want to explore more deeply?

I begin nonfiction essays in a similar way to fiction. I have some questions in my mind, things that I’m interested in writing about, and in fiction I find a voice through which to do that. On the other hand, in an essay, I assay some of what I think I know, and then, as I go along, I realize that I don’t know what I thought I knew. Read More »

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The Escape Artist

January 11, 2012 | by

Graham Greene stole the title of my memoirs. Rueful and proud, ringing of a boastful confession, imaginary maps, and the magician’s exegesis, his Ways of Escape would have been a perfect header for my career of flight—from reality, relationships, and, finally, the country. It is a series of escapes in which Mister Greene, who made so seductive the life of an exiled libertine, is not entirely innocent.

But he needn’t take all the blame. At least part of the credit for my fleet-footedness is due to a childhood spent shunting between single parents and rival school districts (or is it the other way around?). I was always arriving, never staying too long, and, with another departure constantly looming, my relationship to home became abstracted to fungible goods, dispassionate.

As an only child, I spent a lot of time by myself. But I never ran with imaginary friends, opting instead to invent imaginary versions of myself. I dreamed constantly of flying (by mastering the basketball double pump), climbed ficus trees, and read Dragonlance books. Their rogues and wizards enchanted me, wandering far from their homes, always in search of a tree city called Solace.

In the fifth grade, I asked the girl I was crazy about to go steady with me, only to call back five minutes later to explain that I’d had too many Jolly Ranchers, and, unfortunately, it was over between us. I’ve left every relationship since—be it of five months or five years—in a similar fashion. It really isn’t them. It’s me, and I have to leave all that I know to get rid of him, to start over. Like a writer in the movies, with a pile of crumpled paper in the bin beside him, I am forever beginning anew. This next draft is going to be the keeper—the real me.

Meanwhile, I’ve inherited my father’s method for home improvement: moving. At the end of my chapters I pull up stakes like a fugitive and purge everything, from beds to furniture to collectibles and clothing. A stack of my first-edition Gavin Lambert books now lives in a baby nursery in Culver City, an espresso maker is in Echo Park, and a few dozen ties are reentering circulation from an Out of the Closet on Fairfax.

Jobs are no different. At least four times I’ve gone home from a day’s work without a word, never to return. I’ve left schools, left my position as starting quarterback for a college football team, and left this piece a half dozen times. My distinguishing feature is a pair of taillights. Read More »

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Confidences

October 12, 2011 | by

Photograph by Aftab Uzzaman.

If you are a writer with any presence on the Internet, even a very obscure one, you often get e-mails from strangers. Sometimes these strangers are quite eccentric, like the guy who once sent me a short story about men who were enslaved for breeding purposes and fed dog food. So I didn’t give much thought to a cryptic e-mail I got in the summer of 2009 from a person named Innocente Fontana.

The e-mail contained a few terse words of praise for my first novel. I wrote back, “Innocente Fontana can’t possibly be your real name … can it?” He didn’t respond; three months passed. During that time, I was living off of unemployment benefits and savings from a job I’d recently lost, and I was feeling exhausted. To make a living as a writer, as I was trying to do, seemed impossible.

In the fall, presumably because he’d read a blog post I wrote about traveling in Morocco, Fontana e-mailed again. This e-mail was longer and mentioned that, decades back, he’d spent time in Tangier. He said he’d known Paul Bowles during that time, that Bowles had become his literary mentor. Skeptical, I probed for more detail. Who was he, really? Read More »

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