#AWP17 Featured Presenter Q&A with Paul Lisicky
AWP | December 2016
Event Title: Minimalist, Maximalist, Memoirist: Sarah Manguso, Albert Goldbarth, Paul Lisicky, Sponsored by Graywolf Press
Description: What does it mean to contract, expand, and elucidate a line or a life in one's personal writing? Three remarkable and very different writers will read from their recent works, and then discuss these questions and how they approach the writing of nonfiction by coming to it through other forms and genres. Which one is the minimalist? Which one is the maximalist? Are any—or all—of them the memoirist? Introduced and moderated by Graywolf Press director and publisher Fiona McCrae.
Participants: Sarah Manguso, Paul Lisicky, Albert Goldbarth
Location:Ballroom B, Washington Convention Center, Level Threee
Date & Time: Saturday, February 11, 3:00–4:15 p.m.
Q: What are some of the conference events or bookfair exhibitors you look forward to seeing?
A: I just looked at Thursday’s 9:00–10:15 slot and wish I had eight minds, eight bodies—it goes without saying we can’t do everything. I’ve gone to just about every AWP conference since Palm Springs in 2001, and some of my best times have been the readings, on and offsite. So that’s what I’m especially looking forward to: readings.
Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
A: I’m still thinking about Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Not just for the integrity of its sentences, but for the way its individual parts ring together and make this beautiful, astringent chord. It’s a short book, but it has the scope of a thousand pages. Some other books: Fanny Howe’s The Needle’s Eye, Joy Williams’s 99 Stories of God, Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone, Solmaz Sharif’s Look, Olivia Laing’s Lonely City, Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You, Monica Youn’s Blackacre. And I could keep going.
Q: Has public funding for the arts made a difference in your life and career as a writer?
A: I received my first state arts council grants in my 20s, and was lucky enough to get an NEA in my final semester of grad school. So, yes—those grants not only gave me time to finish early projects but came as validation when I needed something to push me forward.
Q: When AWP was founded in 1967, there were a dozen creative writing programs, now there are approximately 1,800 undergraduate and graduate programs. What do you think has changed for readers and writers since creative writing became ascendant as an academic discipline?
A: My sense is that readers and writers and more sophisticated than they used to be. The work is often sharper on the craft level. People can get direction from so many different sources, whether it’s their local indie bookstore or someone’s Twitter feed or their college reading series.
I suppose the downside is that the “career” side of things is often over-emphasized. It can be too easy to lose sight of why we do this. We don’t talk about that enough. What else do we have to tell us that bodies matter, feelings matter? Compassion and community: it’s rebellion right now, even if it doesn't always announce itself as rebellion.
Q: What advice can you offer to writers who must navigate between the solitude or artistic work and our nation’s politics and culture at this moment.
A: I’m all for dissolving the line between individual and the political. It’s not something that’s only out there, but in us. I suppose the tricky part is: how do you write political work that doesn’t make use of external language and stances? Writers often assume they’re obligated to do that. How do you write your own politics, find your own satire, in tune with your psyche? That’s the challenge. Think of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, which is genius when it comes to the interrelationship between the interior life and community life. Or Eileen Myles’s work.
Q: If you’ve been to Washington, DC before, what places do you recommend our attendees visit?
A: I’m a big fan of Politics & Prose, the great bookstore out on Connecticut Avenue. But other than that? I’ve never been to the National Botanic Garden, but I might head on over if I get time for a break. Leaves and stems and water might be a nice antidote to all those words.
Q: If you could run into any author, contemporary or historical, at #AWP17, who would it be and what would you talk about?
A: Virginia Woolf. I’d like to talk to her about her garden, Sussex, Monk’s House, England, England right now, all that.
Paul Lisicky is the author of five books including The Narrow Door, Unbuilt Projects, and The Burning House. A 2016 Guggenheim fellow, he teaches in the MFA program at Rutgers University-Camden and serves on the Writing Committee of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.