Trey Ellis is an American writer and screenwriter who, as a recent graduate of Stanford University, published the seminal essay “The New Black Aesthetic”, which has been reprinted dozens of times, is cited in over sixty scholarly publications, and is considered a key text in the study of black popular culture. Ellis has also published the novels Platitudes; Home Repairs; and Right Here, Right Now, which won the American Book Award and was named one of the notable books of the year by The Washington Post. His most recent book is a work of nonfiction entitled Bedtime Stories: Adventures in the Land of Single-Fatherhood. He has also published humor and political commentary in The New York Times, Newsweek, GQ, Playboy, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Huffington Post, and NPR’s All Things Considered.
Ellis, who is also a distinguished screenwriter, is an alumnus of the Sundance Institute, a Sundance international mentor, and an Associate Professor of Screenwriting in the Graduate School of Film at Columbia University. He wrote the HBO film The Tuskegee Airmen, starring Lawrence Fishburne and Cuba Godding, Jr, which garnered him an Emmy Award nomination. His screenplay for the Showtime film Good Fences, produced by Spike Lee and starring Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover, was shortlisted by PEN Center West for teleplay of the year. His first play, Fly, was performed at The Lincoln Center Institute, The Vineyard Playhouse, and the Crossroads Theater. In the fall of 2012, it will be produced at the historic Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
Ellis is a confident fast-talker with a treasure trove of stories to share.
Growing up, were you a kid who read a lot? Were there a lot of books around?
When I was a kid, my mother was going to law school but was also a playwright. The house was full of books. I’ve wanted to be a writer since the fifth grade: I had this idea of a writer living on a boat off of Nantucket with a typewriter on the deck and a beautiful bikini’d wife serving whiskey.
[Laughs.] A super realistic view of a writer’s life. But why fifth grade? Did you read something at that time that gave you that image of a writer on a boat?
I don’t remember. I’d just moved: my dad was at the University of Michigan and moved to Yale. Before that, in Michigan, I was into sports and thought I’d be a professional running back. In the fifth grade I decided, “No, that’s unrealistic. I’ll become a novelist.” A friend and I wrote a screenplay together, and I was writing from that moment on.
I read a lot, but I didn’t want to read Hardy boys or YA fiction. Being perceived as a smart kid was important to me. The biggest book we had in the house was an 800-page biography of Hirohito, so I tried to plod through that in maybe the sixth grade. I didn’t understand ninety percent of it, but I thought that’s what I should be reading.
So screenwriting was a goal from very early on?
That was the first one, but I didn’t think about them again for a while. By high school I was writing short stories, and at boarding school—at Andover—I studied with Alexander Theroux, who is a fantastic novelist. He was very supportive. When I went to college at Stanford, I started my first book, Platitudes, in a creative writing class with Gilbert Sorrentino, who was a great novelist as well. I finished college early and went to Florence, Italy, where I’d studied overseas, and I finished the novel there. I was working at a gym and teaching English, all these little odd jobs under the table, and writing this book four hours a day every day. That was because the Paris Review interviews said that a writer should write for four hours every day.
My fall semester as a senior at Stanford, I took Sorrentino’s creative writing class and instead of a short story, I wrote twenty pages of the beginning of my novel. Armed with those twenty pages when I graduated, I came to Florence and wrote Platitudes longhand in a series of notebooks over six or eight months. When that draft was done, my friend Dan came to visit and I wrapped it in trash bags and duct tape—I had no computer, so this was my only copy—and gave it to him. He was going back to America, and I was going to travel through Africa for a couple of months. He said that going through customs was hard because they’d see this crazy wrapped thing and he would have to open it and show it to them. But he brought it back safe and sound. He’s the same friend who later, when I had kidney disease, gave me a kidney. He’s done two really good things for me.
Wow, good friend. You said that you’d already studied abroad in Florence while you were in college, but what made you go back? Did you feel it was a good place to write this novel?
When I studied abroad during college, I had probably the best experience of my life. It was my first time traveling internationally by myself, but I had traveled through the United States by myself before. My friend and I were going to take a bus across the country to visit Stanford when I was a junior in high school, but four days before we were going to leave, he said he hadn’t asked his mom permission, so he couldn’t go. He’s my other best friend, aside from Dan. I begged my dad, and he still let me go.
I took a Greyhound by myself from New York City to Los Angeles and San Francisco, then back to New York. On the way back, I met an old beatnik named Ted Jones, who introduced me to the Beats and their wanderlust and aesthetic. I’m teaching a class on the Beats right now at Columbia.
How did you meet Ted Jones?
We met in a classic Beatnik way. I was getting on the bus to go home from San Francisco, and I walked by this older black man who had his fingers in his nose. I thought, “I’m not sitting there,” but I sat across the way. There weren’t many seats. We started talking, and he said, “I travel on buses a lot, and you want to have two seats together so you can sleep. So when people are coming onto the bus, put your fingers in your nose or your pants or do something that makes them not want to sit with you.” It was good advice. And he said, “Have you ever heard of Lawrence Ferlinghetti?” I’d heard of Kerouac, but nobody else. He showed me this poem where Ferlinghetti used the word “siren” as a verb: police cars sirening down the street. All this crazy Beat language.
It’s three days across the country on the bus, and for three days we talked and talked. He told me about his adventures with Kerouac and Ginsberg and living in Timbuktu and Paris, and it opened my eyes. That’s who I wanted to be. Ted called himself a VIP: a Very Impecunious Poet. He was like a trickster crazy force of nature.
That was my first big adventure by myself, and after school I decided to go back to Florence by myself and have another grand adventure. After I finished the manuscript, I traveled through Africa for four months.
What year was this?
I was in the class of ’84, graduated in ’83, so it must have been the last part of ‘84.
How were you getting around?
I traveled down the boot of Italy by train, took a boat to Greece, and flew to Egypt because it was cheaper. The Sudan was having a civil war – as they often do – so I had to fly over that to Kenya. The rest I did overland, from Kenya to Uganda to the Central African Republic and Central Zaire, the Congo, a bunch of Western African countries on my way up to Algeria, Tunisia, and the boat back to Italy.
There were places in Algeria where you could get a bus, but people were so nice that I mainly hitchhiked. In Central Africa, the Congo, you’d stand on the side of the road and a truck would come by with a ton of people up top and some dead monkeys and coffee bags. You’d hop aboard, give the guy a little money, and he’d take you to the next town.
Was this the wanderlust again, or did you have an idea of what you wanted to experience?
Partly it was a celebration of finishing that book. Partly it was thinking of another book. I had all these journals and pictures that I thought would be the raw material for another book. Years later, when I was moving to Los Angeles, I mailed them and the boxes exploded and I lost them. I remember a lot of it, though, and I will write about it in some way, because it was great.
You said that in Florence, while you were writing Platitudes, you were writing four hours a day, very disciplined, then working odd jobs. Can you tell me a little more about what life was like for you there?
I’d stayed two semesters in Florence during college. The first semester I’d stayed on campus in a beautiful villa. The second semester, the kids who wanted to really learn the place went to live someplace else. My friend and I had an Italian roommate and moved across town. I had a little, old-fashioned bike right out of The Bicycle Thief. Every weekend we went to Bologna and Sardinia and all over. I made fantastic Italian friends. When I came back, a friend of a friend’s girlfriend was renting a room outside of Florence and I rented from her.
So you had a community there.
I had my Italian friends. When I wanted a little American burst, there was the new crowd of students at the school. But ninety-nine percent of my time was spent with Italian friends and some German friends. I felt that I was an Italian. I was assimilating as fast as I could.
But then a song came on from their childhood and they were all singing it at the top of their lungs, and I realized Italy would never be my home. I wanted to either go back to the States or travel to other places. I decided to do the trip to Africa and see what happened with the book when I came back.
So you gave the book, wrapped in its complicated shroud, to your friend Dan, and he took it through customs. Was the goal for him to bring it to publishing houses?
Oh, it was just a rough draft. I just wanted him to hold onto it. It was written in my handwriting with notes everywhere. In those days I had a Smith Corona typewriter, or I wrote on onionskin paper where you could erase the ink with an eraser. I’d write double-spaced, typing it in, word after word after word. The deep work of that. Then by pen, going through it all, then typing it up again and showing it to some people.
Gilbert Sorrentino helped me get an agent, and it got to Vintage Contemporaries, a division of Random House. But that took another year and a half of rejections after I came back.
Tell me about coming back to the States— to New York, right?
I’d come back to Italy after traveling through Africa, and my dad had moved to Paris for a while. I didn’t know why. A German friend and I drove up. We had this great trip, and in Paris my dad pulls me aside and says, “Tell your friend to take a walk.” Then he tells me that he’s got the AIDS virus and he’s there getting AZT treatments because it wasn’t offered in the States yet. That changed my plans. I stayed in Paris and we spent a week or two together, just the two of us and this group of gay men who were all there to get these treatments to try to stay alive.
I didn’t realize that France was ahead of the States in AIDS treatments at that time.
They hadn’t approved the drugs in the States yet. It was approved in France, and Rock Hudson had gone there. My dad’s doctor said he should go because he would die if he didn’t have it. We were there together for a couple of weeks, and then he left and I stayed for a week or two closing up his apartment. Then I went back to the States and nursed him for the next six months: taking him to doctors’ appointments, making him Cream of Wheat with heavy cream in it to try to keep his weight up. He passed away after six months.
My sister lived in Brooklyn then; she and I inherited the apartment, and I stayed there. I’d finished the first draft of the book—I was still working on it while he was alive, but I hadn’t sold it yet. So he died not knowing that I’d sold it.
That must have been an enormous shock, going to Paris where this bomb was dropped on you. I can’t imagine. While you were nursing your father, did you have other jobs to support yourself?
I was nursing my dad, working on the book, and working at Rolling Stone as a proofreader. In the summers during college, I had worked at Newsweek as a reporter and researcher, first in Atlanta and then in New York City. When I got back from Florence, two of my editors at Newsweek were now at Rolling Stone, so I applied and got a job as a proofreader there. I’d work nights from ten until two in the morning, three or four nights a month, and the rest of the time I’d be rewriting this first novel and living in my dad’s apartment.
You had a lot on your plate, but did you find an artistic community in New York during that time as well?
I did. I had started doing some freelance writing, and through friends of friends I’d found out about the Black Rock Coalition and the Black Filmmakers Foundation. Through them, I found these avant-garde black artists who are some of my best friends to this day, and that’s when I wrote this essay called “The New Black Aesthetic,” about that world. It was the coolest clubs, artists and models, Keith Haring, Basquiat, Spike Lee, all these people around the same age doing the same stuff. That’s the world that I was in.
That was an extraordinary time in New York—there was also a lot of money being pumped into the art world.
Right. And there was all the graffiti art. Fab Five Freddy, who was a friend, would take me around the East Village and on every block I’d meet some new person. As someone who liked the Beats so much, it seemed like the same kind of world. The actors from the Jim Jarmusch movies, they liked our cool and thought we were cooler than they were, so they were around too. It was really fun.
And you had this manuscript and were finding an agent. Did you want second opinions on it, or did you feel strongly that you knew where you were going with your work?
I felt strongly that it was what I wanted. But here’s the thing that I didn’t say. I’d read that G.K. Chesterton—you know, the British detective writer—that his advice to writers was to write a first draft, stick it in a drawer for twenty years, then take it out and rewrite it. I knew the odds of selling a first novel were slim to none. I thought that I would stick it in a drawer, but I showed it to Gilbert Sorrentino and Alexander Theroux and a couple others at Newsweek, and a friend’s father was John Williams, a novelist, so I sent it around to a couple of novelists, and they were very encouraging. I thought maybe I could do something with it, so I kept working on it, sent it around to agents for a year, and finally got with Candida Donadio and Associates. They sent it out and got thirteen or fourteen rejections.
Finally one day, when my father had passed away and I was living on the Upper West Side and proofreading at Rolling Stone and writing for Interview magazine—I’d done some cover stories by then—and running the streets of New York and burning to sell this book, I came home and usually there’s the message from my agent saying, “Sorry, we got another pass, another pass, another pass,” but I pushed the button on the machine and it was my agent, Eric Ashworth, saying, “Erroll McDonald at Vintage read your manuscript and we’ve got an offer.”
How did that feel?
I kept looking at the machine and playing the message over and over again by myself in the apartment. At the time, Bright Lights, Big City was the big Vintage Contemporary book that everyone was talking about, so that felt like the best possible place I could be.
I’d heard that Erroll would always take people to The Quilted Giraffe or Le Cirque, these crazy fancy restaurants. I had one suit, a corduroy three-piece—which is now in style again, but back then it was not in style at all—and I wore it to meet him at his office. He was like, “Why are you so dressed up?” and I said, “Uhhhh… I’m going to a wedding.” Then he took me to this little sushi bar around the corner, totally low-key, not fancy at all. It was funny, I ran into Jay McInerny like a year later, and he was like, “Oh, Erroll—did he take you to Le Cirque when he met you?” [Laughs.]
Erroll teaches at Columbia now, too, but I haven’t run into him there yet.
[Laughs.] You should confront him and demand a dinner. So you’d been burning to get this book published—what was it like to hold the book in your hands when it came out, to see it in bookstores and have it get the big-splash reception that it did?
It was about fourteen months between that phone call and when the book actually came out. It felt like a lifetime. Just when I was sick of waiting, I’d get good quotes from people or proofs to go through, something to do. You want to move on and write other stuff, but you have this baby that’s sort of born but still in the ICU and hasn’t come out to the world yet. It’s a weird in-between period. Then you get the bound galleys, which feel more like a book, and when you get the real book, you can’t believe it.
In some ways, though, it’s also like the last scene in Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark, when they’ve got the ark and it goes into the warehouse with all the other artifacts. You feel like, “Wow, the whole world can read my book!” but then you see it in the bookstore and realize you’re in a smaller group than everybody else, but you’re still in a huge group of people who write books. Still, it’s fantastic.
The reviews were fantastic and serious. The New York Times Book Review was terrible, in that they didn’t do anything about it, but it did well despite that. For as important a book as it became, it’s weird that it was not reviewed there. Maybe eight months after the book came out, it was reviewed in brief by a very traditional writer who just didn’t get it. Publishers Weekly’s advanced review was just a summary of the book in one big paragraph, and the second paragraph was one sentence, two words: “Mindless drivel.” Period. But I liked that review. I’d pushed a button. It was cool. After that, I was interviewed for a radio show and they did a half-hour documentary that was on PBS—crazy things happened.
Was reception important to you? Obviously you remember certain reviews. Did they affect you? I’m thinking now of “The New Black Aesthetic” and this idea of expectations for what an African-American artist is and does. Were you afraid in some way of how people would judge what you had produced?
I wasn’t afraid. I had a more outsized ego than I have now. I always thought that I was anointed by God or the muses. Whenever you write a book, you should think it’s going to be like that. Otherwise you shouldn’t be writing it. You have to assume that people are going to love it. In my group of friends, it did strike a chord, and the celebrity was fun. It was fun to go to a coffee shop and see someone reading the book and say, “Hey, I wrote that.”
I was traveling a lot, and in the crypt in the bottom of a pyramid in Yucatán, Mexico, I was talking to this American kid. I was maybe 28, and he was a 20-year-old white kid, and he was like, “Trey Ellis? Oh my God, I read your book in college.” It was exciting.
Did it make you worry about writing the next one? It’s hard to top yourself. Did you have any struggles with yourself after that to be productive again?
I didn’t struggle to write. Platitudes had this peripatetic nature, the short attention span, little sections and choppy postmodern stuff, and I’m like that in real life. That’s why I write books and plays and screenplays and articles and political stuff and humor pieces. I was determined to make something different, so in Home Repairs I took my diaries from ages sixteen to thirty and rewrote them and shaped them into this roman à clef.
I’ve spoken to a lot of writers who’ve said that their biggest hurdle was having to top themselves after finishing the book they poured their youth into. But you just kept going?
Yeah. I didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder, and I have a pretty good work ethic. If I’m not writing I get depressed and crazy. Or crazier. So I had to start up on a book again.
Did you maintain the work habits you had in Italy? The four-hours-a-day discipline?
I did. But that was four hours a day for a burst of six months when I was single, no kids, not living in the city with so many people around—it was much easier. Now it’s trickier to find that time. I’ve never done Yaddo or MacDowell, the colony thing, because I’ve always thought, “How can a couple weeks make a big difference?” But now I think that’s probably good.
We’ve got a thirteen-year-old, a ten-year-old, and a five-year-old, plus I teach at Columbia in the screenwriting and writing divisions. It certainly cuts down on the time that I can spend writing.
I’ve spoken with other writers who have said that before having kids, they were used to procrastinating luxuriously on their own time, and that after having children there was less time, so they had to change their habits and really focus.
My best writing quality of life was early in my first marriage, when I was living in Los Angeles. I would write for four hours, starting at about ten in the morning and with a break for a sandwich. I’d finish at two o’clock and go to the gym or surfing or to hang out with friends. It was like semi-retired life, and I got a lot of work done, too. Now we live in Westport, and I’ll wake up and drive my wife to the train and come home, and then the kindergartener will come home and I’ll drive her to ballet and then come home again—it’s hard.
The time gets broken up into little pieces. But you mentioned Los Angeles—let’s backtrack. You were living in New York when your first book came out and you threw yourself into the second one. How were you living then? How long did you stay in New York, and when did you go to L.A.?
I don’t remember exactly. I think I had the first book done and was living the high life in New York and writing. I was still going back a month or two in the summers to Europe and everywhere, traveling a lot. There was the super high-class writer world, but I wasn’t part of that. My world was mainly black writers and artists and models. I was dating a series of really beautiful models and going out a lot, really steeped in the culture: every single play, new music and writing. Then this woman I was dating, she broke my heart and I had to get out of town.
I found a hotel in Santa Monica where I was going to stay for a month, but the evening before I was going to go, I met this woman at a party and it was love at first sight. I ended up going to Japan because she was moving there. I lived with her for three months, and we moved from there to Los Angeles, where we lived in Venice and got married and had two kids and lived together for fifteen years.
But let me go back again. When I first got out of college, I thought I’d get a job writing comedy for television. I wrote a lot of sketch comedy, sent it around, tried to get agents. Back in New York, through friends of friends, I got this sketch to Maggie Lear, whose dad is Norman Lear, the creator of All in the Family and the most legendary TV guy. She was an agent’s assistant, and she said, “I love this, and anything that I love my boss loves, so I’m sure you’re going to have a great career.” I remember walking down Park Avenue by a BMW showroom and thinking, “What car should I get with my newfound riches from writing television?” Then I got a call from the guy saying, “Good luck to you, but it’s not for me.”
So the TV stuff wasn’t going to happen, and I left for Florence to keep writing the book.
So you went back to New York after college, before you went to Florence.
For a couple of months. I went to Florence instead, wrote the book, then came back. But I was always interested in film work as well, so while I was waiting for the book to come out, I wrote a script and got that script to Maggie Lear, who’d moved on to feature film work. She liked it and gave it to her boss, who hired me to write a script. The book had just come out and was doing really well, and then that script was accepted by the Sundance Film Institute and I was invited to Sundance and got an agent as a screenwriter. Then I started my parallel lives of writing screenplays and books.
That must have been a triumphant year or two, as both of those things were starting to work for you. When were you able to stop working side jobs and focus only on your writing career?
When my dad died, I inherited a little money and had a place to live. I was living frugally, so I didn’t have to work much. I was still proofreading a bit, and I was writing for anybody who would pay. When I got my first paying job for a screenplay, I could stop all that, and soon after that I moved to Los Angeles.
In Los Angeles you could make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year writing screenplays, so for several years I made a lot of money. It was fun and seemed effortless, because I was young and was an almost instant success without going to film school or anything. It all happened really easily and lasted for a long time. Now, as the film business has contracted so much, the numbers have been cut by two-thirds.
When you were writing Bedtime Stories, your memoir about raising your children, you said that the reason it took you so long to finish it was that you were living a life in search of an ending. That’s part of the conflict of narrative in memoir: you shape the facts to tell a story, but you need something to shape for it to have an ending. What was it like for you to write nonfiction after all your fiction?
I always wanted to do something new. Some of the characters in Platitudes were based on people I knew well, but the story itself was completely invented and a bit of everything. Home Repairs was told journal-style. Right Here, Right Now was totally fiction, about a self-help speaker talking into a series of cassette tapes. I was thinking of how to make something new, and I thought, “Well, all these things have happened to me that I didn’t talk about: the death of my father, my mother committing suicide when I was sixteen, living all over the world and traveling and all these women and now finding myself a single dad raising two kids after this storybook life in Los Angeles.” It felt like a story that someone else would write if I didn’t.
I was inspired by Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I wanted to write a true story—everything is true in my book—that was written like a novel and could use some things I used in Platitudes, like footnotes and articles thrown in. I wanted to write the nonfiction version of Platitudes.
Did your writing habits change when you were writing nonfiction and had to be truthful about difficult things in your own life?
It’s funny, because I was dating this French woman when I was writing it, and I thought it would end happily with me living in France with her and the kids. Then she dumped me via email and I didn’t have that ending anymore. I knew there was a lot of truth to the book, and that in general people’s lives don’t fit into the neat, three-act structure of film. But in the last third of the book, I would do things because I thought they would be good for the book. It became a sort of performance art.
There’s an old Saturday Night Live skit about William Randolph Hearst talking about his yellow journalism, and in it he says, “It’s a slow day for news,” and then he flips open the window and pulls out a gun and shoots somebody and says, “There’s your headline: Killer On The Loose!” I liked that idea of being part of your own story.
[Laughs.] I love that! So now that you’re teaching, how does working with young writers relate to your own writing?
It’s a net positive. I’m 49, but I think of myself as a 27-year-old, and that can be really lame when you’re writing and you’re not really around 27-year-olds. That’s where my kids come in. Talking and learning about the culture from my own kids and my students, I have a much more dynamic sense of the culture for my art. It’s not all fossilized in 1993. Obviously, the downside is that it’s hard to find time to actually do the work.
As a teacher, what excites you about what you see young writers doing?
I’m always surprised by how many cultural references they know. The Internet has collapsed time in a good way. I’ll mention I Dream of Jeannie or some crazy old TV show, and they know it. Everything is so recycled that we have a very common language. People are students of culture.
Do you have any advice for young writers starting out right now?
I always wanted to be a writer but knew that it was a long shot. I thought that I would be a physicist or a mechanical engineer making solar panels, and write that novel and put it in a drawer, or someday after I retired I’d dabble in writing. It wasn’t something you could make a living from.
But after my mom died when I was sixteen, I saw that you can’t plan your life that way. I decided that if I wanted to be a writer, I would be an English major and have no marketable skills except for writing. My dad pushed me into journalism, which I liked, but basically I was going to be some kind of writer. And if you’re serious about it, you’ve got to go for it, be a little reckless that way, and keep at it.
How did your family feel about your desire to be a writer?
My dad gave me a watch when I graduated high school, and engraved on the back it says, “Soar carefully.” He was supportive, but he was also worried. He was a psychiatrist. My uncle, who is also a doctor but an artist at heart and an art collector, said, “Leave that boy alone. If he wants to be an artist, let him do his thing.”
It was hard for my dad, and it is hard for me when I think that he was my biggest fan and would’ve been thrilled with my success.
On your path to success as a writer, were you someone who made a plan or someone who let things happen?
I was totally Type A. My friends bugged me about it. When I interned at Newsweek, I interviewed some guys who worked for TV shows, and as soon as I got out of school I sent work to them and said, “Hey, I’m not a journalist anymore. Can you read my work?” When that didn’t work out, I wrote the book and then sent it to anybody I knew who knew someone who was a novelist or an agent. I sent it out religiously. I marked down that I’d sent it to this agent or this agent or this agent. I’d go through all the different agents in The Writers’ Market, like: “Sent this date, check, two weeks later called them and see if they got it, one month later, check check check.” I was obnoxiously hungry for success.
When I became successful and all the photo shoots and documentaries happened, I ate that stuff up and was a bit of a fame whore. My friends would tease me about that. On my book cover, I’m like this [strikes a pose] and when it came out my best friends from college were all walking down the street doing that.
Oh no! But since you were so Type A, did you ever feel that if writing didn’t pan out within a certain time period, you’d go back and become an engineer?
No, I didn’t. I was going to go down with the ship. If I hadn’t sold the first book, though, it would have been hard to write the second book. People who write a second book after their first book hasn’t sold, my hat’s off to them—that’s got to be very hard. That’s great dedication. Hopefully I would have had that, but screenwriting was a little more secure, so it wasn’t the book or nothing.
Now I’m writing my second play and nonfiction and screenwriting and moving into television, a little bit of everything, and it’s exciting. It’s all part of my journey of being restless.
Do you feel that at this point, maybe you are sort of on the bow of that boat off Nantucket with a whiskey in hand? That gentlemanly, Fitzgeraldian writer image?
Not at all. It’s the opposite. The boat was supposed to be really relaxing, and actually it’s really hectic. The quality of the work is better than it’s ever been, but there’s not enough time to catch my breath. It’s exciting, but my image of the writer on the deck of the boat was very Fitzgerald and Hemingway: you’re in the café, a little buzzed, and you write some stuff down and then go dancing and pass out. It’s the opposite.
Interview by Astri von Arbin Ahlander
Edited by Harvest Henderson
Photo courtesy of the artist