In these strange and difficult times, the University of Iowa Press, with the Writing University, is reaching out to its authors to gain perspective, advice, humor and connection. We want to know how they are doing, first and foremost: we are primarily checking in. But we also want to know how they are living (or surviving, or managing) with the pandemic that surrounds all of us. We are a family here -- the press, the authors, the university -- and this is what families do: we check in.
Today's author conversation is with Diarmuid Hester. Diarmuid Hester is a Leverhulme Early Career fellow in English at the University of Cambridge and a college research associate of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He is the author of the forthcoming book Wrong, which will be published by University of Iowa Press this summer. His writing has appeared in American Literature, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, the Journal of American Studies, Critical Quarterly, the Los Angeles Review of Books, 3:AM Magazine, gorse, and elsewhere. He lives in Cambridge, England.
Diarmuid wrote UI Press marketing director Allison Means about his daily life during the pandemic:
1. What book(s) do you recommend for this time of isolation?
To combat the isolation we feel at the moment, many of us are reading works that imagine or manifest social connection. But what if we read to understand that isolation better, to better tolerate it—transform it even? Here are a few of my favourite books that take isolation and solitude as a theme:
Mike Amnasan, Beyond the Safety of Dreams (2000). Amnasan is a lesser-known New Narrative writer, alongside Kevin Killian, Dodie Bellamy, and Robert Glück. While a lot of New Narrative writing is about community and connection, Amnasan scrutinises the social bonds that connect us to one another and often finds them wanting. This absolute gem of a novella unpicks the funny, alienated narrator’s relationship with a world he finds increasingly hard to believe in.
Dennis Cooper, Safe (1984), republished in Wrong: Stories (1992). Another novella, from another writer associated with New Narrative, this was Cooper’s first full-length prose work, which focuses on a gorgeous guy named Mark, his ex-boyfriends, and would-be lovers. Dodie Bellamy said that the book exemplified Cooper’s “aesthetics of distance.” Cooper is greatly influenced by French filmmaker Robert Bresson and in this book he channels the weird impassivity of Bresson’s amateur actors to create characters that seem miles apart though they’re lying in bed together.
Lynne Tillman, American Genius: A Comedy (2006). Middle-aged, neurotic Helen ruminates on the world inside and outside the walls of the unidentified institution to which she has withdrawn. Here solitude and isolation open onto vast imaginative expanses. In Tillman’s inimitable style, sparkling, spiralling arabesques of prose encompass everything from cats, to Charles Manson, to skin problems, to the history of the humble chair.
2. What are 3 good things that happened today?
- Meditation – every day (almost)
- Finished Star Trek Picard – I grew up watching The Next Generation, and I have to say this was a trip. Inevitable plot holes obscured by waves of nostalgia
- Watched Empire Records – April 8th is Rex Manning Day after all
3. What is your isolation playlist? (Could be a list, screenshot of your spotify playlist or link, etc.)
I call this playlist: “Queer Man Grows Up in Rural Ireland”
4. Could you share an image of your new “coworker(s)” (pets, kids, etc.) or your new "office" (my desk is literally in a closet)?
Pom Pom is a terrible secretary, her spelling is the worst (no thumbs).
5. Do you have a writing prompts you could share to inspire us?
The best piece of advice I got about writing was from Dennis Cooper. It might be something everyone hears in a writing workshop but I’ve never been to a writing workshop, so forgive me if you’re hearing this for the millionth time. He suggested, as an exercise, to find a writer you like and copy them. Do it repeatedly, paying attention to how they structure their sentences, the cadence of their paragraphs, etc. until you’ve fully metabolised their style. Then try another. Cooper began using the exercise very early in his career: when he was sixteen he wrote a version of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom with his high school friends in starring roles as Sade’s libertines (he burned the book so his mother wouldn’t find it). Ultimately you should get to a point where you can express your ideas in your own unique way, drawing on the skills and techniques you’ve learned.
Thank you Diarmuid!
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