October 09, 2015
Gregory Pardlo is the 2015 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his book Digest. He was born in Philadelphia in 1968, a graduate of Rutgers University, Camden and currently teaches at Columbia University in New York. He visited and read at SUNY Plattsburgh on October 15th.
October 01, 2015
How do sports and the physical world influence your writing? Which piqued your interest first?
Being part of the physical world has obsessed me since I was very small, but that happened at about the same time as I discovered words.
My mother used to go running in the mornings and I would try to tag along with her as soon as I could walk - just like the way as soon as I could disappear inside a book that’s what I’d do. I grew up in a tiny town outside of Albany where we had acres of forest, ponds, and fields all around us. If I wasn’t reading a book I was swimming, ice skating, climbing a tree, or getting lost on a path in the woods.
Words and physical movement were always conjoined for me somehow - the space where my muscles stretched and my lungs breathed (were) as protective and welcoming as the enchanted caves words made where I could just be still and escape from myself for hours. Both places were a fundamental grounding and at the same time a reaching out beyond myself.
February 24, 2015
Interviewed by Nicole Hebdon, SR Fall 2014 Intern
1. About how many drafts did you write of “Higher Laws?”
About fifty! I’m not the kind of writer who crafts a story neatly, paragraph by paragraph. I’m the kind who gets the shitty first draft down and then revises for months. Or years.
2. When did you know that the piece was “done?”
When I read it through and (finally) didn’t make any changes. This was just after I added a passage in which Silverman turns inward and sees what a fraud he’s been. When I get to the (often embarrassing) truth about a character, and I cringe when I write it, that’s usually when I know the story is done, or close to done.
September 30, 2014
When did you realize you wanted to write?
I was a teenager when writing decided to choose me. My family tells me I was writing little stories about the death of animals when I was a small child. I wish I had had some say in what I turned out to be because I would have chosen musician or sports hero or military man or something sexy. I never made a decision to write: why would I? It’s an awful life: alone in a room, rejection letters in the mailbox every day, no money to speak of. Plus it’s difficult to do well, and frustrating, and time consuming, and I mostly hate everything about it. But some of us don’t have a choice in what we are. I continue to do it because I’m at the point now where I can make extra money every year writing for different magazines and journals, and a handful of editors and readers seem to think I’m pretty okay at it. Plus I don’t know how to do anything else. I wish I did.
September 30, 2014
How does living in the north country influence your writing?
It’s isolated so the primary influence is that there’s no excuse not to write.
Who or what do you count as your nonliterary influences on writing?
Jazz, esp. Thelonious Monk & Bud Powell; also a rootless lifestyle.
September 30, 2014
What inspired you to write “How Much An Ant Can Carry”? And what are some of the key things you tell your writing students at Vermont College of The Union Institute & University when they first begin working for their MFA?
Those questions turn out to be related. As writers – that includes my students as well as myself – we have to hold onto our idealism along with a realistic view of the cultural moment we live in. Writing the best and most truthful fiction we can write has to matter to us whether the publishing industry gives a damn and whether or not we reach a wide audience. If we can’t hold onto that commitment, there’s a lot of other things we can do with our precious time on earth. Fiction writers and poets are hardly the only people negatively affected by corporate consolidation of media. I think it’s even more frustrating for journalists who have fulltime jobs where they are rarely allowed to cover issues that matter and are instead assigned to recycle trivia over and over and over. I recently heard novelist Marianne Wiggins speak and she was saying she grew up thinking that “news” told you things you didn’t know you needed to know.
September 30, 2014
Your story “Almost Africa” appeared in issue 5 of the Saranac Review, can you tell me about your inspiration for this story?
The story was originally part of a 110,000 word novel. This and another short story that appeared recently in Witness are all that remain of the abandoned manuscript. It, like my new book School for Tricksters, explores the idea of race through the lens of fakes. Ethel is a black actress who has to perform being African in a way that satisfies the racist stereotypes of white film-makers—which is the sort of complex and largely unconscious performance everyone acts for their personal audiences everyday.
September 20, 2014
First off, why zombies?
This is not a very good answer, but I like zombies. And you can do a lot more with zombies than say vampires or ghosts or mummies. With zombies, you can do the George Romero version, or the voodoo version, or you can make your own version. A character in a story dies. They come back to life. They return home and boss their children around. That could be a zombie story. Zombies give you more freedom than vampires. Vampires suck blood. They never age. It’s hard to think outside the box when it comes to vampires. It’s hard to find really good vampire stories. But a lot of good writers like Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, and George Saunders, have done a zombie story or two. And they’re high quality, literary stories. I love that. A literary zombie story. I think it would be hard to pull off with any other horror subject. It would be hard to come up with something surprising and new for the reader.
And sometimes zombies, like any other horror genre, really scare people. I know a girl who is deathly afraid of zombies. She has two escape routes for every building she enters, just in case zombies attack. Her greatest fear is zombies having sex. That kind of phobia is something that could drive a story. And it wouldn’t necessarily be a story about zombies, but it could be about her and her fears, and it would be a zombie story.
September 15, 2014
Your story, Between Panels, tells a narrative that uses comic book panels as an essential part of the plot. When did you first begin combining artwork with writing and how do you think this method affects your storytelling?
When I was a kid, I loved comic books and I loved novels that had illustrations. My parents, in fact, bought me a copy of The Hobbit filled with still shots from the animated film (and sketches, conceptual artwork, etc.), and although this didn’t necessarily change the narrative itself, it was interesting to see the difference in storytelling and description and imagination when comparing the text to the image. The same was true of Stephen King’s The Stand and Cycle of the Werewolf, both of which had great Bernie Wrightson illustrations scattered throughout (and became my favorite books in middle/ high school), and made me wonder why more novels didn’t incorporate artwork, but neither of which used the illustrations as anything more than a nice complement.
September 10, 2014
The names for the two male main characters are very unique; was there any significance in choosing the names Coke and Carbo?
In the small town in which I grew up, Batavia, NY, we always had nicknames for each other. Some were based on our names, some on our habits. Carbo’s nickname is a play off of his real name, Nick Carboni, and Coke’s is due to drinking at least a six-pack of Coca Cola a day (and of course that coke-dealing he was doing in high school). Creating this kind of back history for the characters helps me develop them even if I never use the information in the story. Plus I like the way the two unhealthily named characters contrast with the plain-named Mary, a name I always liked (perhaps a product of my Catholic upbringing).