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Meet the Author: 6 Questions with Paul Lisicky

July 13, 2021

Get to know the author Paul Lisicky, who will lead us in reading Qiu Miaojin’s Notes of A Crocodile in the July edition of #APStogether, our series of virtual book clubs, as he discusses his favorite books and the power of literary communities.

Paul Lisicky is the author of six books including Later: My Life at the Edge of the World, an NPR Best Book of 2020; The Narrow Door, a New York Times Editors’ Choice and a finalist for the Randy Shilts Award; as well as Unbuilt Projects, The Burning House, Famous Builder, and Lawnboy. He directs the MFA Program at Rutgers University-Camden, where he is an associate professor and the editor of Story Quarterly. He lives in Brooklyn and Provincetown.

What book do you regret not reading earlier in your life?

I was assigned To the Lighthouse as part of an undergraduate class on modernism, but I read it under duress, as if each page were an obstacle to getting a good grade on a midterm. I wish I could have foreseen how important Woolf's eye and ear would be to me, but I think we fall for books when we’re ready for them.

What have you read in your life that you cherish and recommend, that highlights the endless possibilities of human sexuality in writing?

The sexual encounters in David Wojnarowicz’s Close to the Knives are always imbued with awe, presence, mystery, play. He’s one writer who never takes the erotic life for granted. As a reader, you know what it’s resisting—illness, death, erasure—with every word.

What are some of your favorite books that have been translated into English?

I’ll mention two books that came out within the last year, both of which were translated from Spanish: Cristina Rivera Garza’s Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country, translated by Sarah Booker; and Nine Moons by Gabriela Weiner, translated by Jessica Powell.

Which author's editing process would you have loved to see?

Not long ago I saw a very early draft of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “One Art” and parts of it were unexpectedly imprecise and unmusical. It also took a potshot or two at Alice Methfessel, her partner, which was another surprise. The final poem feels so unbidden, as if the air breathed it alive. It gave me great hope about my own writerly messes.

What book coming out in the next year are you most excited about?

I’m going to be disobedient and mention three: Anthony Veasna So’s story collection Afterparties and Claire Vaye Watkins’s I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness. I’ve read both in ARC form and they’re dazzling—not a word I use that often. The third? Joy Williams’s novel Harrow, which I know I’m just going to tear through when I finally get my copy.

What is the power of collective reading, such as joining a book club or sharing a favorite book online? Can you describe a moment in your life when you've been completely amazed and revitalized by being part of a book community?

It certainly happens for me when I’m in the classroom. At some point, the discussion takes on a life of its own, which comes about from collaborative energy directed toward a single point. I felt plenty of that excitement in A Public Space’s book clubs last fall, which took place at a time during the pandemic when the day itself sometimes felt too heavy to lift. Those discussions were life-giving.

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