Here is an excerpt from an seventy-minute interview/conversation with Samuel. R. Delany. Delany was a Kelly Writers House Fellow in 2016. The discussion took place on February 16 that year. Regina Salmons has done the work of transcription. A video recording of the entire conversation can be viewed here.
Al FILREIS (begins by quoting Delany’s novel Dhalgren)
“As I walked home, I thought about the hospital again” — this is described earlier in the “It was so easy to tell your story and not mention you were homosexual.” I assume he means to tell your story in the clinic. [Continues quoting Delany.] “It was so simple to write about yourself, and just not to say you were black. You could put together a whole book full of anecdotes about yourself without ever revealing you were dyslexic. And how many people whom I’d just met and who’d ask me ‘what do you do?,’ did I answer disingenuously, ‘Oh I type manuscripts for people.’”
In 2017 I moderated an interview/conversation with Lydia Davis. At one point I asked her to read "In the Train Station," a prose poem or microstory I have admired and puzzled over. Then she and I discussed it. A video clip of that exchange is here, below. The transcription was done by Regina Salmons. The text of the piece can be read here. Here is a link to a video recording of an 18-minute discussion of this piece with Anna Strong Safford and erica kaufman (the video is inside the ModPo site; one must register to watch). And here is a 35-minute collaborative close reading (with 20 people) of the same piece which I hosted in San Francisco.
On Tuesday, April 25, I had the honor of interviewing Lydia Davis. She had come to visit the Kelly Writers House as a Writers House Fellow. The program is associated with a seminar that I teach — in which the students and I read as many of the writings of the Fellow as we can. As I discussed Davis’s work with my students and KWH colleagues, I became fascinated by several micro-stories that particularly read like prose poems. “A Mown Lawn,” a series of permutative phrasings that moved forward from the vowel affinities of “mown”and “lawn”and riffed semantically as well (thus starting with suburban lawn care, moving through law-and-order conservatism and finally reaching imperialistic warfare), became a special fascination.
On Tuesday, April 25, I had the honor of interviewing Lydia Davis. She had come to visit the Kelly Writers House as a Writers House Fellow. The program is associated with a seminar that I teach — in which the students and I read as many of the writings of the Fellow as we can. As I discussed Davis’s work with my students and KWH colleagues, I became fascinated by several micro-stories that particularly read like prose poems. “A Mown Lawn” is a series of permutative phrasings that progress from the vowel affinities of “mown” and “lawn” to semantic riffing as well — starting with suburban lawn care, moving through law-and-order conservatism and finally reaching imperialistic warfare. I was compelled by the poem’s radicalization of homonymic improvisation. Naturally, then, when I had a chance to interview its author, I asked her if she would be willing to read it, and comment. She describes this as one of just two explicitly political pieces.
Eileen Myles’s recent visit to the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia as a Kelly Writers House Fellow featured, among other public events, an interview-conversation moderated by me. The video recording of the one-hour conversation, which was live-streamed as a webcast, is now available here. Generally these were the works covered in the discussion: Inferno, The Importance of Being Iceland, Chelsea Girls, the essay “Foam,” and some of the poems gathered for I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems. The session concluded with Myles's reading a passage in Inferno in which she contemplates her return to Harvard to give a reading, a dislocated homecoming that leads to painful memories of what Harvard's complaints about her father's drinking signified.
On March 20, 2007 I moderated a public conversation with Jamaica Kincaid. Most of the questions I asked her — and my comments about her writing, after I'd read everything she’d written — were about the convergence of a quasi-cubist idea about sentences (almost Steinian in places, although not quite) on the one hand, and, on the other hand, a specifically postmodern postcolonialist conception of her Caribbean origins. A "trying not to get it quite right," as she and I agreed during the discussion.
This is the 23rd episode of the Kelly Writers House podcast series, produced by me, hosted and introduced by Amaris Cuchanski, edited down to 23 minutes from the original hour-plus-long recording by Nick DeFina. The podcast features excerpts from a discussion with the writer of experimental metafiction, Robert Coover. I moderated the interview/discussion at the Writers House on February 24, 2009. Coover was visiting as part of a three-day stint sponsored by Kelly Writers House Fellows. He had given a reading the night before.
On February 12, 2013, I interviewed John Ashbery in his Chelsea apartment, and moderated a discussion with people gathered at the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia while hundreds watched via live webcast. The live webcast, of course, was recorded and here is a link to the YouTube recording of the GoogleHangout video. Ashbery was the first of three 2013 Kelly Writers House Fellows, and this was his second time as a Fellow; he is the only writer, in 14 years of the series, to be asked to serve as a Fellow twice. The previous visit was in 2002. On Monday, February 11, the poet met for three hours with students in the KWH Fellows Seminar and then gave a public reading (also available as a recorded webcast). During the reading he performed several poems from his new book, Quick Question, and read two unpublished poems — one of them having been written just a few days earlier.
I spent the last two days with Edward Albee, whom I hosted as a "Writers House Fellow." I was able to persuade him to read my favorite speech in all of his 30 plays--the pre-elegy given by A (modeled on Albee's adoptive mother) to the audience at the very end of Three Tall Women. My second favorite (while we're on favorites...): Martin trying to describe his feelings for the goat in The Goat (Or: Who Is Sylvia?), an attempt that breaks down because such longing is an experience of non-relation. He cannot "relate" it because it doesn't not "relate to anything," a foregrounding in a surface of halting words the key double meaning of (in my view) all great writers. Relation = to connect (or--mostly--not) and to describe in words (or--mostly--not).