Alex Shakar is previously the author of the novel The Savage Girl and the story collection City In Love; his new novel, Luminarium, comes out this August. A native of Cobble Hill, he now teaches fiction at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and lives in Chicago, but he returns to the city to read from and discuss Luminarium tomorrow night at Greenlight, and to read the Scratcher in the East Village on September 10th, as part of LitCrawl NYC.
For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
The New York Times Book Review: “Shakar is an author unafraid of heights.” I don’t know whether or not that’s really true of me, metaphorically speaking. But it’s what I aspire to in my work. I try write about inner states that aren’t easily expressed, and to draw connections between the very large and the very small in our lives. And maybe this one, too, which a writer from BOMB came up with last week: “Reading Alex Shakar’s new novel Luminarium is like running a marathon in a thunderstorm.” I liked that, even before reading on to make sure he meant it as a good thing!
What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
For some reason Dream Conversations, by the 13th-century Zen master Muso Kokushi, pops to mind. Less esoterically, I’m hooked on Breaking Bad.
Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
I was at a friend’s place recently and found a copy of Paris Hilton’s Your Heiress Diary under his coffee table (a joke gift, so he claimed). I got pretty caught up in the chapter on channeling your inner heiress before the level of mockery in the room made it impossible to keep on.
Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
Below the poverty line until I was 32. It made me a lot of things—but mostly intense. Way more than I’d want to be now.
What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
Honestly, they’re almost all ideal. Writing is such a solitary venture. You spend years alone in a room, feeling for stories that potentially could never mean anything to anyone. You publish a book, if you’re lucky, and it sells a certain number of copies, and that number, plus an utterly unknown quantity for people who are buying it used or borrowing it from libraries or friends, is all you have to go on. It’s very abstract. So when I do hear from readers who’ve been moved by my writing, it’s a phenomenal gift.
Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Every other facebook post. But in terms of my books, thankfully no. I think a lot of writers publish stories and novels before they’re really done. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had time to see how my work can radically transform and evolve from draft to draft. It helps to have discerning friends. And once in a while, even a rejection can be the best fate to have befallen you.