Interviews

Scott McClanahan on Hill William

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Everything about Scott McClanahan moves. If you’ve seen him read from any of his collections of stories or the recent Crapalachia: A Biography of a Place, then you know what I mean. He’s like a preacher blowing through town to spread a little gospel, share a little bit of his West Virginian truth, and then bust out of town before your heart stops pounding. There are rolling stones, and then there’s McClanahan—kicking rocks in and hollering in celebration of just being alive.

Interview: John Freeman

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For over fifteen years, John Freeman has been having a passionate love affair with literature. He’s reviewed over a thousand books for the most respected publications of the English speaking world, served as president of the National Book Critics Circle, and has interviewed hundreds of the most well-known authors—fifty-five of these interviews have been collected into his new book, How to Read a Novelist.

Ellen Forney

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Was it his demons that gave his art so much life? Or did he work in spite of them? This is the question at the center of Marbles, Seattle-based cartoonist Ellen Forney’s new book, a memoir in graphic novel form, chronicling the time she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, mapping a personal journey of all that she went through.

Grappling with the erratic see-saw of emotions, Forney found herself facing what appears to be an eternal question—is suffering essential to create art? And, the corollary to that, should she choose not to take her medication? Would it affect her work?

The ghosts of Munch, Plath, Sexton, Woolf, Gauguin, Gorky (‘Club Van Gogh,’ as she cheekily terms it) crowd around Marbles, presiding over its pages as Forney comes to terms with her condition, placing her faith in therapy and science, making peace with her truth—“I’m most productive when I’m stable.”

Here’s an across-the-oceans web chat (coffee for her AM, nightcap for my PM), with the artist and creator of the darkly funny, intensely brave, and powerfully profound, Marbles.

Aimee Bender

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Writing with a distinctly imaginative and liberating voice, Aimee Bender is the author of two novels, An Invisible Sign of My Own and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, and three short story collections, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Willful Creatures, and, most recently, The Color Master. We caught up with Bender to ask about the new book, the craft of writing, and why the short story is comforting.

Interview: Edwidge Danticat

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Edwidge Danticat is the author of several books, including The Dew Breaker, The Farming of Bones, Brother, I’m Dying and Breath, Eyes, Memory. She is the recipient of the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Langston Hughes Medal (the speech for which was published in Issue Two of The Coffin Factory), and the MacArthur Genius grant.

Mitchell S. Jackson

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It’s no accident that acronymizing The Residue Years works out to TRY. In a debut novel full of heart and sentences that bleed, Mitchell S. Jackson gives us the love story of Grace and Champ, mother and son, yearning and TRYing their best to get back to the good times, to rewrite their best versions of the past, to edit out the badnesses.

Carrie Olivia Adams

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Carrie Olivia Adams is a poet living in Chicago. She is is a book publicist for the University of Chicago Press and the co-founder and poetry editor for the small press Black Ocean. Adams is the author of the poetry collection Intervening Absense, and, most recently, Forty-One Jane Doe’s, both published by Ahsahta Press. Editor Laura Isaacman met with Adams at a cafe in Brooklyn to talk about writing, editing, and the similarities between mathematics, science, and literature.

Noam Chomsky • Think It Through

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Noam Chomsky is a public intellectual and political activist who has been credited as the father of modern linguistics. The Coffin Factory met with Chomsky in his office at M.I.T. to hear his opinions on anarchy, democracy, and literature.

Twelve Books • An interview with Cary Goldstein & Brian McLendon

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All publishing houses are different, but Twelve Books is truly unique; they publish no more than twelve books a year. The Coffin Factory met Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Cary Goldstein and Associate Publisher Brian McLendon at Twelve’s office on Park Avenue to discuss their distinctive vision of publishing.

Matt Bell

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After a story collection notable for its range and originality (How They Were Found), and a novella that somehow made the post-apocalypse beautiful (Cataclysm Baby), In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods has a lot to live up to. But like his book’s title, Bell’s abilities seem to be forever expanding. On the first page, he builds us a house. But then there’s dirt and a lake. Then a bear. Then a family. Then a baby. And then and then and then and then, and you can’t stop reading, and you’re terrified and overwhelmed, but even so you’re still reading.

John Banville • That Tormenting Quest for Perfection

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At the start of the new year, The Coffin Factory made a pilgrimage to Dublin in order to meet a guru of literature, John Banville. In his apartment on the Liffey, we discussed spirituality, the differences between literary and popular fiction, and the craft of writing.

Scott McClanahan on Crapalachia: A Biography of a Place

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It’s McClanahan’s voice that sets his writing apart from the rest. His tone is intimate and friendly, honest and no-nonsense, accessible and, well, as hospitable as I imagine his grandmother’s fried chicken and gravy to be (a recipe for that meal is included in the book).

Interview: Sjón

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The Icelandic author Sjón was in New York City last week to promote the release of his three books being translated into English: The Whispering Muse, The Blue Fox, and From the Mouth of the Whale. Tweed’s caught up with him in the lobby of the Roger Hotel and asked him a few questions about mythology, the writing of literature, and the anarcho-surrealist political party that currently is in charge of governing Reykjavik, known as the Best Party. The full interview will be available in the first issue of Tweed’s.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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At the office of Farrar, Straus and Giroux near Union Square, The Coffin Factory met with Jonathan Galassi (president and publisher) and Jeff Seroy (senior vice-president of marketing and publicity) to discuss today’s rapidly changing literary marketplace.

T.C. Boyle • There Are No Rules

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Just before the release of his fourteenth novel, San Miguel, The Coffin Factory visited T.C. Boyle at his Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in Santa Barbara, California to talk about reading, writing, and teaching.

Amber Sparks on May We Shed These Human Bodies

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Now, Amber Sparks has a book, May We Shed These Human Bodies, out this month from Curbside Splendor. It came as no third surprise that I found with each story a new shock, something unexpected. After the first sentence, there’s no telling where a Sparks story might take you, and there’s definitely no telling what that first sentence might be.

Other Press

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Judith Gurewich is the publisher of Other Press, a relatively new independent publishing house with an incredibly vibrant list of American novels, works in translation, nonfiction, and memoir. Gurewich, a Lacanian analyst who ran a workshop on Lacan at the Center for Humanities at Harvard for twelve years, recognized a need for the translation of Lacanian texts into English. Her dip into publishing, however, became an adventure that eventually spun away from clinical texts, and she founded a high quality literary press. Over cappuccinos and croissants in a small, mahogany-paneled French restaurant just south of Central Park, we asked Judith Gurewich to share the kinds of stories that most pique her interest, the challenges a publisher who takes risks faces, and much more.

Harvey Levenstein on the American Food Industry

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Harvey Levenstein is professor emeritus of history at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ohio. He has published a number of books on American history, including Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet and Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America. His newest book, Fear of Food, provides the history of germs, milk, the beef industry, vitamania, organic food, processed food, and fats to show the growth of a national eating disorder, and the media’s role in propagating a culture of fear surrounding food. Since we are so interested in this topic, editor Laura Isaacman asked the author to answer a few questions.

Adam Zagajewski on Poetry

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If you love poetry and know how to read, you have read or will read Adam Zagajewski’s latest book, Unseen Hand. There is rarely anything obscure in this collection, but its final effect remains mysterious.

Zagajewski began publishing poetry in the 1960s, a devastating time for East Central Europe. He witnessed the anti-Jewish purge in universities and communist parties in the Moscow bloc, and the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet army and its allies. The violent suppression of the Polish workers’ demonstrations soon followed in 1970. At that time he wrote what you might call political poetry, but in the 80s and 90s, as communism’s influence declined, his work underwent a change. He continued to write about events connected to Poland but also about spiritual concerns and the weight of history.

The People’s Library of Occupy Wall Street

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As the Occupy Wall Street movement passes its three month anniversary, the People’s Library, formerly located in Zuccotti Park, has served not only in providing Occupiers with fundamental and entertaining literature, but also as a symbol of the movement itself; a month ago, the Library bore the bulk of destruction and suppression handed to the OWS crew by Bloomberg and the NYPD, but it still persists. I was able to talk to one of its librarians, Hristo Voynov, to discuss the role that the People’s Library has played in the movement, from volunteer staff to the estimated value of what has been damaged, right down to a Glenn Beck book.