The Writing University conducts a series of interviews - the "5Q Interviews" - with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the various University of Iowa writing programs. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.
This year, we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the University of Iowa Press with a special editon of 5Q Interviews of UI Press authors throughout the years. Happy Birthday UI Press!
Today we are speaking with Robert Clark.
Robert Clark was born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. He received a BA in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MA in Medieval Studies from the University of London. He spent many years as a freelance journalist and editor specializing in travel, food, and wine, culminating in his first book, The Solace of Food: A Life of James Beard, which received full-page reviews and/or cover treatment in The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, and The San Francisco Chronicle and also won the Julia Child IAACP award.
Clark then wrote River of the West, a chronicle of the Columbia River and his adopted home in the Pacific Northwest. The Los Angeles Times called it “a sad, haunting retelling [and] a poignant series of narratives…about disillusionment and tragedy and the incantatory power of nature”. Turning from creative non-fiction, he wrote his first novel In the Deep Midwinter, which Dan Cryer of Newsday said marked Clark “immediately [as] a novelist of consequence”. Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post summed up, “It has been a long time since the last American novel of such compassion, intelligence, and maturity.”
Clark’s next novel, Mr. White’s Confession, blended literary fiction with 1930s noir detective story and garnered a feature review by Greil Marcus in Esquire, among other national publications. It won the Edgar Award for Best Novel as well as the PNBA Award and was optioned as a motion picture by James B. Harris, producer and collaborator of the late Stanley Kubrick. Subsequently, Clark returned to creative non-fiction with My Grandfather’s House, a memoir The New York Times called “compelling” and which was named a finalist for The Los Angeles Times Book Award in biography.
His next novel, Love Among the Ruins, was a return to the locale of his previous fiction. Praised by critics and reviewers as a haunting portrayal of love in youth and middle age as well as the psychological and social upheavals of the 1960s, it was a double BookSense 76 pick in both hardcover and paper (Vintage). His fourth novel, Lives of the Artists (“adroit, amusing, and delightful”, said The Vancouver Sun), was published in May 2005 by HarperCollins Canada.
In 2005 and 2006 he was a Guggenheim fellow in Italy and wrote Dark Water: Flood and Redemption in the City of Masterpieces. Library Journal said “Clark uses this riveting story to meditate on the communion that exists between artist and viewer and on the mortality of even the greatest art… [an] exceptional work of popular history [that] succeeds on all counts”. "Clark's stories of the flood are the stuff of thrilling documentaries”, said The Washington Post while The Economist noted that “Mr. Clark, a novelist, tells an enthralling true story in a way that makes it read like a novel”. In 2009, Dark Water won the Washington State Book Award.
Robert Clark lives in New York City. He teaches in the MFA program at Seattle Pacific University and at conferences and workshops. His essays and reviews have appeared in Conjunctions, The Antioch Review, Image, Ploughshares, and The Washington Post. He is currently at work on a new novel, a collection of interlinked memoir/essays, and a book of lyric biographical reflections on Victorian writers and artists.
1. Do you have a specific project that you will be working on this year?
I’ll be teaching, taking photographs, and thinking very hard about a new novel as well as some essays on lost literary reputations.
2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?
When I have a project underway, it’s toast and marmalade and coffee, then at my laptop until noon or so. Then reading and errands and usually a bit more in the mid to late afternoon. I take the weekends off.
3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?
Iris Murdoch’s The Sandcastle, a novel about her perennial themes of love and obsession with an undercurrents of theology and philosophy; pleasure on top, something like research below. I bought it in an old Penguin edition with a lovely but rather alarming woodcut on the cover.
4. Tell us about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?
St. Paul, Minnesota originally. I moved away when I was eighteen but I’ve set all my novels there, so it’s deep in the blood. Since then I’ve lived in California and Washington and am now in New York City.
5. The UI Press is turning 50 this year! Share with us a bit about your experience and relationship with the press.
This is my first experience with UI and it’s been great—they’ve taken such care and worked so hard on the book and I hope to publish more work with them!
Thank you Robert!
Established in 1969, the University of Iowa Press serves scholars, students, and readers throughout the world with works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. As the only university press in the state, Iowa is also dedicated to preserving the literature, history, culture, wildlife, and natural areas of the Midwest. The UI Press is a place where first-class writing matters, whether the subject is Whitman or Shakespeare, prairie or poetry, memoirs or fandom. They are committed to the vital role played by small presses as publishers of scholarly and creative works that may not attract commercial attention. For more information, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.