Podcast: Slipping the Noose of the Topical

Phillip Lopate on The Virtual Memories Show (2/2)

Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 20 –
Slipping the Noose of the Topical

“When you start out writing, you think, ‘Maybe I’ll become one of the great writers, like Dostoevsky or Goethe, Tolstoy.’ Then you quickly realize that that’s never going to happen. But I’ve been writing now for close to 50 years, and I’ve never really had writer’s block. I think success has been esteem in this particular world of the essay and nonfiction. When I go to conferences for the Association of Writing Programs, I’m treated like a demigod. But when I’m in the real world, I’m anonymous.”

Phillip Lopate, the finest personal essayist of our time, joins us to talk about finding his voice, the difference between memoir and essay, teaching students to use the self to fetch the world, why blogs remind him of Sei Shonagon’s pillow books, what’s too personal for a personal essay, and more!

“I had learned from the great essayists — Montaigne and Hazlitt and Lamb — that it wasn’t so much the subject matter as it was the voice and the display of consciousness that was intriguing. If you liked the essayist, you would read anything that they wrote.”

We discuss his five-decade-plus-long career (spanning 20 books and collections, including 2013’s Portrait Inside My Head and To Show and to Tell), the author who started him on his path, his balance between writing fiction and essays, how readers read and misread his work, his methods for fusing the personal and the critical, why students should read some of his essays before taking his classes, whether he considered going Hollywood, why and how he assembled The Art of the Personal Essay anthology, and who his favorite New York Met is. (I was surprised by his answer to that last one.)

“An editor once told me, ‘Phillip, your idea of a perfect assignment is one where you never have to leave the house.'”

Phillip Lopate on The Virtual Memories Show (1/2)

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Phillip Lopate is the author of numerous collections of personal and critical essays, including Bachelorhood, Notes on Sontag, Portrait of My Body, Against Joie de Vivre, and Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan,, as well as several novels and novellas, and three poetry collections, and has edited several anthologies, including The Art of the Personal Essay and Writing New York. His essays, fiction, poetry, film and architectural criticism have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Essays, several Pushcart Prize annuals, The Paris Review, Harper’s, Vogue, Esquire, Film Comment, Threepenny Review, Double Take, New York Times, Harvard Educational Review, Preservation, Cite, 7 Days, Metropolis, Conde Nast Traveler, and many other periodicals and anthologies. He is the director of the nonfiction graduate program at Columbia University, where he also teaches writing. His two most recent books are the personal essay collection Portrait Inside My Head and To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction.

Credits: This episode’s music is Sometimes The Truth Is All You Get by The Low and Sweet Orchestra. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Lopate’s home in Brooklyn on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 mics feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded in my home office on a Blue Yeti USB microphone. File-splitting is done on a Mac Mini using Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Top photo by me. Bottom photo by Cheryl Cipriani.

Podcast: The Importance of Being Out

Craig Gidney on the Virtual Memories Show

Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 7 –
The Importance of Being Out

It’s time for the first double-episode of the season!

“To me, there are two types of YA: one is fiction written with the kid in mind, and the other is where the characters happen to be that age. It’s a fascinating age-group, because that’s where the world is changing. I tend to write for the latter.”
–Craig Gidney

First, Craig Gidney, author of the new YA novel, Bereft, talks about bullying and how the internet has amplified it, his literary influences, his problems with “transparent” prose and Twilight, how his new book differs from his first collection, Sea, Swallow Me, and the joy of getting a blurb from one of his favorite authors.

“For the first 15 years or so, we’d occasionally get busted windows. It hasn’t happened in 10 or 15 years now, but in a period of two weeks, there were three windows smashed, and then we would go a few years without having any busted. It always struck me as interesting that these broken windows always came in the dead of night.”
–Ed Hermance

Then Ed Hermance talks to us about the history of his queer bookstore, Giovanni’s Room, the changing face of gay literature, the challenges of selling books in The Amazon Age, the historical creation of gay identity, why he was a little embarrassed by Obama’s Stonewall shout-out, and the most poignant story that the store has to tell.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out our archives for more great talks!

Ed Hermance on The Virtual Memories Show

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About our Guests

Craig Laurance Gidney writes both contemporary, young adult and genre fiction. Recipient of the 1996 Susan C. Petrey Scholarship to the Clarion West writer’s workshop, he has published works in the fantasy/science fiction, gay and young adult categories. His first collection, Sea, Swallow Me and Other Stories, was nominated for the 2009 Lambda Literary Award in the Science Fiction/Fantasy and Horror category. He lives and writes in his native Washington, DC. He is on Twitter as @ethereallad.

Ed Hermance is the owner of Giovanni’s Room, the longest-operating queer bookstore in America. Ed was born in Houston in 1940, graduated Dartmouth College (’62, BA, philosophy) and Indiana University, Bloomington (’65, MA, comparative literature), and taught at Auburn, Indiana State , and Tuebingen University in Germany. Fearing that he might never escape the closet as long as he remained a teacher, Ed abandoned academia and joined a hippie commune in the mountains of Southern Colorado (still a going concern with a long history of distinguished perennial guests, including Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and John Corso). Ed moved to Philadelphia in 1971 to manage Ecology Food Co-op, a natural foods outlet. He bought Giovanni’s Room from its founders with partner Arleen Olshan in 1976.

Credits: This episode’s music is Heaven or Las Vegas by Cocteau Twins. The conversation with Craig was recorded at the Doris-Mae Gallery in Washington, D.C., on a pair of Blue Encore 100 mics. The conversation with Ed was recorded at the Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia, on a pair of AT2020 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. I recorded the interstitial stuff on a Blue Yeti USB mic into Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band.

Who Am I?

I’m the guy who was in serious doldrums this evening. I think it’s anxiety about work, but it’s been running me down for a while now. I feel overwhelmed, unable to get ahead because there are so many fires to put out. I’ve been talking to people less and less, and having more difficulty just keeping up a normal conversation.

When I got home tonight, I was pretty burned out. The mile with the dogs didn’t help much, and I came home and found myself staring out the window, emptying the dishwasher, and otherwise trying to avoid looking at computer or TV screens.

Eventually, I went downstairs to the library. Still dolorous, I looked over some shelves of books and told myself, “I’m never going to read any of these.” Then, on a whim, I reached out to pick up one of several collections of essays by William Gass, whom I haven’t read in many years. I opened The World Within the Word to its table of contents, saw, Proust at 100, took the book upstairs, cracked open the spine on page 147, and started reading.

At first, I kept losing focus, partly because of Gass’s gorgeous by sneaky prose but mainly because thoughts from the office kept intruding. So I began reading the pages aloud. I thought it would be good practice for the podcast, because I need to learn to record prose without falling into my distant, nasal, uninflected tone. But reading it aloud, finding the rhythms of the sentences, also drove all the office banalities from my mind.

I’m the guy who’s amazed at how far he’s fallen from himself.

UPDATE: Here’s a 9.5-minute audio clip of me reading from the essay! Enjoy! Or try to!