#AWP16 Featured Presenter Q&A with Jonathan Lethem & Geoff Dyer

AWP | March 2016

Event Title: A Reading and Conversation with Geoff Dyer, Leslie Jamison, and Maggie Nelson, Sponsored by Graywolf Press
Description:Join three remarkable writers whose works challenge and invigorate new nonfiction with wit, empathy, intelligence, and style. Geoff Dyer received the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism for Otherwise Known as the Human Condition. Leslie Jamison is the author of the essay collection The Empathy Exams, a New York Times best seller. Maggie Nelson is the award-winning author of the innovative works The Argonauts and The Red Parts. Introduced by Graywolf publisher Fiona McCrae.
Participants: Geoff Dyer, Leslie Jamison, Fiona McCrae, and Maggie Nelson
Date & Time: Friday, April 1, 2016, 3:00pm – 4:15pm

Event Title: Eula Biss and Jonathan Lethem: A Reading and Conversation, Sponsored by USC Dornsife English & PhD in Creative Writing and Literature
Description: Join us for a reading and discussion with two of contemporary literature’s brightest stars, Eula Biss and Jonathan Lethem. Eula Biss is the author of three books: On Immunity: An Inoculation, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction; Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism; and a collection of poetry, The Balloonists. Her work has been supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Howard Foundation Fellowship, an NEA Literature Fellowship, and a Jaffe Writers’ Award. Jonathan Lethem is the author of over a dozen books—including the much-lauded novels Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude—and the winner of a MacArthur Foundation Grant. Other novels include Chronic City, selected for the New York Times’ “The 10 Best Books of 2009” list; You Don’t Love Me Yet; and Dissident Gardens, a New York Times notable book of 2013. These acclaimed authors read from their work and discuss their creative process and their plans for continued future success.
Participants: Eula Biss, Geoff Dyer, and Jonathan Lethem
Date & Time:Friday, April 1, 2016, 8:30pm – 10:00pm

Q: What are some of the conference events (besides your own) and/or bookfair exhibitors you are most excited to see?
Geoff: Lord, there are so many great events I hardly know where to start but, from a rapid look through the program, I'm very excited about the following: R114. “Land of Upheaval: A Literary Journey Through Haiti’s Modern History.” I’ve never been to Haiti and I only got round to reading C. L. R. James’s The Black Jacobins last year—though I'm a long-time admirer of Alex Webb’s book of photographs, Under a Grudging Sun—so I will not want to miss this. F265. “Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction,” a panel featuring some of my favorite essayists. S170. “Helping: A Tribute to Robert Stone.” Having been fortunate enough to spend a bit of time with Bob Stone down in Key West before he died I recently re-read Dog Soldiers and A Flag for Sunrise—amazing novels. This seems sure to be a highlight.

Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
Geoff: Barbarian Days, Joy Williams’ The Visiting Privilege, Paul Beatty’s The Sell-Out, David Brion Davis’ The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation.
Jonathan: My reading experience of the year has been rereading (but it's always for the first time) both Moby Dick and Musil's The Man Without Qualities, the latter of which I'm gearing up to try to teach. If Kafka's The Castle was the great-unfinished-German-language book haunting the first half of my life, the Musil is the same for the second. Sarah Weinman's historical anthology, Women Crime Writers, for the Library of America, is full of brilliant, menacing page-turners, especially, for me, Highsmith's The Blunderer, Millar's The Beast In View, and Hughes' In A Lonely Place. I also just did cartwheels over Steve Erickson's phantasmagorical next novel, Shadowbahn, which I got to see early. Erickson's a real founding father of the current realm of literary dystopia, especially of a California stripe—but he's still out in front of the field, too.

Q: Given how much time writers spend alone to practice their craft, what do you think are the advantages of creating the large community that exists at the AWP conference? 
Geoff: Well, I'm English so I'll always jump at the chance to swill (craft) beer with other people who are writers, anywhere. In fact, on reflection, they don’t even have to be writers.
Jonathan: Well, yes, as I see that question is somewhat self-replying—it's because of the desperate solitude of the central activity practiced by our tribe that we so badly need whatever marginal antidotes we can scrounge up, in the way of collegiality, solidarity, and mass kvetching. At a conference like AWP we also enjoy an opportunity to briefly remake the world in our own image—an entire population, overflowing the lobbies and bars of a number of hotels, who actually care about this stuff.

Q: Outside of the conference, what about Los Angeles are you looking forward to? Are there any Los Angeles activities you would recommend to conference attendees? 
Geoff: I live here in LA. I'd recommend playing ping-pong either at the West Side Tennis Center on Saturday or at Santa Monica College on Sunday. I usually go to Gjusta’s in Venice twice a day but with AWP in progress I might have to cut that down to just once. Finally, at the risk of rubbing salt in the wound of a missed opportunity, if people had been here a couple of weeks ago they could have seen the best band in the world when they were playing in Los Angeles. I mean The Necks, obviously.


Geoff DyerGeoff Dyer is the author of four novels, including Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, The Colour of Memory, and The Search; many genre-defying books, such as Out of Sheer RageBut Beautiful, and Zona; and the essay collection Otherwise Known as the Human Condition, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism. He currently teaches at the University of Southern California. (Photo credit: Matt Stuart)

Jonathan LethemJonathan Lethem is the author of over a dozen books—including the much-lauded novels Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude—and the winner of a MacArthur Foundation Grant. Other novels include Chronic City, selected for the New York Times’ “The 10 Best Books of 2009” list; You Don’t Love Me Yet; and Dissident Gardens, a New York Times notable book of 2013. Lethem's latest book is Lucky Alan and Other Stories. In the spring of 2010, Lethem was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Pratt Institute and became the second Roy E. Disney Chair in Creative Writing at Pomona College, succeeding David Foster Wallace. (Photo credit: John Lucas)

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