Sunday, September 30, 2007
Stacey Levine Interview
I met Stacey Levine in Seattle in the late 90’s at the Jade Pagoda after a reading. Our mutual friends were sleeping under some tables, and she was wearing a knitted hat and had to go home, I believe, to write. She has a new story in the current issue of Tin House, and I cannot wait to read her forthcoming book, The Kidney Problem: Tales and Stories.
Venom Literati: People seem to assume that, because your work is so admired and name-dropped, you are super rich and famous and probably work out of some fancy library that houses your collected works. What would you tell those people?
Stacey Levine: I'd tell them to get over it, and to go home, cook something nice to eat, take a shower, call their mother or grandmother, and go to bed early.
VL: What do you think about day jobs? Are they better than teaching workshops as far as saving one's writerly soul, as they say?
SL: I've done both, but I'd rather not talk as much on the job as teaching requires. So I have another kind of job and I think that's good for me. Teaching is a good way to make money, though, if you can stand it.
What was the weirdest job you ever had?
SL: I worked as a spy for a guy who was in international adoption. He wanted me to find out the practices of another adoption agency. This was in D.C. He met me in the alley behind his office to pay me in cash. I was a lousy spy then, but I bet I'd be better at it now.
VL: If you were to get some windfall of money, the Guggenheim or the MacArthur Genius Grant or something, would that change your work?
SL: It might make me work more. I'm a slow writer.
VL: You live in Seattle, where there are plenty of independent bookstores. Do you find that most of the stuff in bookstores is still a bunch of crap you don't want to read?
SL: Yes, in the big guns NY publishing industry, there's the practice of putting out gimme-marketing, gimmicky literature, isn't there? Standards are shot. Contrary to what some people say, high standards are not a form of elitism. In any case, there's some amazing writing coming out of smaller presses, and lit in translation is nice to
explore. Haldor Laxness from Iceland is an author I've enjoyed recently.
VL: Where is the disconnect between the good books being written and the tiny, tiny number of them that seem to appear on shelves?
SL: This question refers back to the coarsening and stupidifying of the culture in general. And I guess this coarsening and stupidifying points to a current sickness in the American spirit. Everybody knows about it, but it's difficult to find focused discussions about it.
VL: Recently you gave me a great plot idea for a book. I don't want to give too much away and have someone steal it, but basically, it involves the gradual and possibly useless whittling away of a piece of cheese. Do you have any other plot ideas for writers who can't or won't write their own plots (or for poets, who, to put it kindly, are unable)?
SL: No. It takes much practice, and the above example is a case in point.
VL: What kitchen appliance is best as an author self-promotion tool?
SL: Um, something to help me clean up my apartment?