Inspired by our famous Writers at Work interviews, “My First Time” is a series of short videos about how writers got their start. Created by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling, each video is a portrait of the artist as a beginner—and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.
Today’s featured writer is Sheila Heti, whose first collection, The Middle Stories, appeared in 2001. Earlier this week, we had Tao Lin discuss Bed, his 2007 debut.
“My First Time” will return with a new set of authors, including Ben Lerner and Donald Antrim, in a few months. In the meantime, you can watch the first set of “My First Time” interviews, published in May:
In the spirit of that tradition, we’re proud to present “My First Time,” a new video series where writers discuss the trials of writing and publishing that first novel, that first play, that first book of poems. This is a chance to see how successful authors 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.
Next week, starting on Tuesday, we’ll launch the first four videos in the series, featuring Christine Schutt, J. Robert Lennon, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, and Gabrielle Bell. You can see a preview above, including writers from future installments of the series such as Donald Antrim, Akhil Sharma, Tao Lin, Ben Lerner, and Sheila Heti. And stay tuned—we’ll announce more writers in the months to come.
This series is made by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling; we’re delighted to collaborate with them.
Customers waiting for Walmart to open. Williston, ND, 2012, black-and-white photograph.
If you follow the gaze of every shopper pictured in Alec Soth’s photograph of a crowded Walmart in North Dakota, you end up nowhere. The scene of big-box-store mayhem would have you think it’s Black Friday or Super Bowl Sunday morning or the peak of the shelf-clearing shopping spree that is sure to precede doomsday. But in Williston, the city at the center of the oil boom that has afforded North Dakota the lowest unemployment rate in the country, this was just commerce as usual. It was a national story a few years ago: word spread fast that some incarnation of the American Dream was up for grabs in North Dakota, and scores of men and women from all over the U.S. loaded up the family van and set course for the Peace Garden State.
With this mind, it can be tempting to read Soth’s photograph—the empty shopping carts, the sweatpants in public, the claustrophobia-inducing crowd—as acutely tragic. The journey to a new and better life ends here? There are consumer traffic jams in the promised land? The streets aren’t paved with gold but with some sort of linoleum-vinyl composite? Read More
Jason Segel will play David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour. Jesse Eisenberg plays reporter David Lipsky.
Speaking of LA, a Charles Bukowski-themed bar is opening in Santa Monica. It is called Barkowski. (It should be noted that Brooklyn’s Post Office takes its name from a Bukowski novel, and is a good bar, so.)
A series on what writers from around the world see from their windows.
Can you see that beautiful shrub? It has no bald patch, right? That’s because the shy, moustached, Portuguese man, who seems to live in that house alone, has spent the last six years standing in front of the hedge, where there was, for so many years, a bald patch. He’d stand before that patch, staring down at it for hours every day, even in the wintertime. When I’d come home from my errands and lock my bike to the pole, he would be there. When I went outside to check my mail, or if I looked up over my laptop, he would still be there.
At first I thought he was crazy. Then I began to think of him as more profound than other men. Why should we look at everything all around us? There is enough in a shrub.
This summer, the patch filled itself in. I guess he knew all along that it was not lacking water or fertilizer or chemicals or conversation. All it wanted was his attention. Now he stands at another empty patch.
I sit in a room lined with books, at a round, teak dining table, on the second (top) floor of a Victorian house. He stares at his shrub as I stare at my computer. His body faces me and mine faces him. Our bodies are opposite each other every day, and we stare at things, and wait for the emptiness to fill in. —Sheila Heti
I recently picked up a copy of Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?, out last month from Henry Holt, to find a favorite passage. It appeared at the beginning of the novel’s fifth act, or at least it had in the first copy I had read, a Canadian version published by Anansi in September 2010. But flipping through this new edition from Heti’s American publisher, I couldn’t find it. I felt disoriented and wondered if my memory was failing me, and as I looked more closely at the American version, I saw that much else had changed: passages had been deleted or transposed; new characters appeared; objects changed value and form.
After a few minutes of searching, I found the passage I was looking for. It hadn’t changed much between the first publication and the second, but its new placement left me confused, and surprisingly disappointed. I wanted to find the book exactly as I’d left it, and felt the same as Jonathan Franzen, who recently expressed his misgivings about e-books: “When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing—that’s reassuring.” Books often feel like restorative, reliable old friends—and although Heti’s book hadn’t forfeited its material qualities, my assurance of its fixity had been shaken.