What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
One of the many perks of being friends with Jonathan Lethem is that the phrase “book no one else has heard of” completely loses all meaning. But I have a trick up my sleeve. It’s a book that one of my Pratt M.F.A. students, Maria Baker, was writing a few years ago that I don’t think she has finished or gotten published, called “Mortadella With Distractions,” about a couple of Austrian boys who steal a giant sausage. Though it’s quite the madcap adventure, it’s also a canny, witty takedown of bad boy behavior and misogyny. FINISH IT ALREADY, MARIA!!!! IT’S BRILLIANT!!!
Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
I tried to answer this question, but it got really out of control, like an epic shout-out. I have to admit that I have a habit of trying to get to know people whose work I like, not in a stalkery way, but because I come from an artistic family. My mom went to the Fashion Institute of Technology; her brother, Larry Walker, is an accomplished visual artist and former professor. His daughter Kara is indeed that Kara Walker. Kara’s daughter Octavia is a fantastic writer. To name a few. So I can’t help conflating the idea of artistic community with family — my ideal is the Judson Memorial Church. My best friend is the performance maker Clarinda Mac Low, who literally grew up in the Judson Church. I lived and made work with Elevator Repair Service for many years. So I hope it won’t sound lame to say I admire damn near any artist working today given how tough it is, with a special hey-hey-hey to my various communities: my downtown dance/theater cronies, the Village Voice diaspora, my residency homies, my 9Y0 and thereabouts crew (team), my U.T. at Austin M.A. & M.F.A. bitches, my Pratt Department of Writing, Fine Arts and Media Studies dawgz, the NYSSWI gang, my African pen pals, da Blue Chip Art Bunch I met thru Cuzzin K, the posse from your office hours — my Monday night drinking buddies — my novelist and comedy queenz, my former students out there killing it — you know who you are, and I’m living for you. Heart-eyes emoji, heart-eyes emoji, heart-eyes emoji!!! How’s that for an epic shout-out?
What do you read when you’re working on a book? And what kind of reading do you avoid while writing?
The idea that “working on a book” is a totally separate thing from “living one’s life” is maybe the premise I need to destroy there. So yes, I do a lot of reading for research directed at whatever project(s) I’m working on, from pamphlets to novel series, but everything I read during that time can start to have some kind of influence on the work. Advertisements. Street signs. Travel guides. Facebook posts. XXX movie marquees. Memes. I have a total magpie attitude toward art.
Do you count any books as guilty pleasures?
Not really, but I don’t let everyone know right off the bat how much I was influenced by “Psychopathia Sexualis.”