Monday, August 8, 2011

the tuesday interview: christine schutt

Thanks to Lucy Corin, a bunch of us had a chance to hear Christine Schutt read at UC Davis. Her stories, her paragraphs, start with a kind of lurching action, everything embedded in the language, and when I listen to her talk about writing, I think she must write them like we read them. In dense little chunks.

She graciously answered my questions from the Sewanee Writers' Conference where's she's been teaching for the past two weeks.

From Christine Schutt: I am working on a short story that is presently entitled, "Pure Hollywood," a story inspired by a remark I overheard this past spring from a screenwriting friend of my son's. He said, "Don't fly in the face of the hand that feeds you." Out of this has come a brother, named Stetson, after the hat, and his sister, Mimi, both older children of a very rich and successful father-actor, Jim Deminthe. What interested me was exploring their relationship to each other, their (many-times married) father, and Mimi's failed relationship to a Bob Wienstein (sp?) kind of figure. I was also interested in writing about random violence and murder. In truth, I have no idea beyond these particulars as to where it is I am going: every morning I stare dumbly at the screen. The quotation that put the story in motion and was in the story's first paragraph is no longer there.

A third novel, recently turned in and called PROSPEROUS FRIENDS, was inspired by Fairfield Porter's paintings and his biography, especially the time he spent on Spruce Island in Maine. Other Maine artists, David Dewey and Jeffrey Becton (a photographer), were on my mind when I decided to write this novel that had as its working title HOUSES WITH NAMES. All three of the artists mentioned above have moving paintings (in Becton's case, photographs) of houses.

Every summer I read Robert Lowell's last book of poems, DAY BY DAY, and Louise Gluck's AVERNO. The Lowell adoration is over forty years old and the summer ritual of reading DAY BY DAY is almost as old. Every summer I also listen to his last reading given at the 92nd St. Y and recorded in January of 1977.

At the moment, I am teaching at the Sewanee Writers' Conference and reading student manuscripts, but I am reading B.H. Fairchild's work, a poet I have yet to meet but who is teaching here as well. The poem of his I have carried with me from home is "Rave On." Kevin Wilson, who is also here at Sewanee, has a novel about to be released, THE FAMILY FANG (I think that's the title) and it's my next intended read. By the way, Lucy Corin and I met here in 2006; we taught with Barry Hannah (a god in my book and hers).

I recently wrote on a Donald Hall poetry anthology for The Literate, an on-line publication, edited by Dawn Raffel and sponsored by The Center for Fiction in New York City. This anthology of poems was one of the first and most influential books I encountered at the age of 14; otherwise, I was mad for Charles Dickens then, especially HARD TIMES. Many of the poems in the Hall anthology--poems by James Dickey, James Wright, Robert Creeley, Adrienne Rich--are as essential to me today as they were when first I encountered them. Only last night was I talking with Wyatt Prunty, a very fine poet who runs the Sewanee Conference, about James Dickey. We were in agreement on the greatness of some of his earlier poems. "The Sheep-Child," for instance, which is in this same anthology.
Painting: Farmhouse, Great Spruce Head Island, 1954, Fairfield Porter

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