In State's Solitude, Kevin Brockmeier Writes Reserved


In State's Solitude, Kevin Brockmeier Writes Reserved
Kevin Brockmeier, award-winning novelist and short story writer (Karen E. Segrave)
Kevin Brockmeier, an Arkansas Business 40 Under 40 honoree in 2011, has published nine books of (mostly) fiction, including, earlier this year, a collection of very short stories called “The Ghost Variations: One Hundred Stories.” His 2006 novel, “The Brief History of the Dead,” relates the story of people, living and dead, caught up in a lethal pandemic. His work has been translated into 18 languages. He teaches frequently at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and he lives in Little Rock, where he was raised.
Brockmeier has won a number of awards, including Arkansas’ top literary prizes, the Porter Fund Award for Literary Excellence and the Worthen Prize, and three O. Henry Awards. You can find him online at kevinbrockmeier.com

Who are your literary influences?

This makes for a long list — literally — and I would encourage your readers to visit the “Lists” page on my website for a much more peculiar and exhaustive take.

Here I’ll mention just three names: Italo Calvino, the great 20th century Italian fantasist, a sort of lab scientist of literature, fascinated by effect and experiment, who is probably the writer whose books have most inspired me; Donald Harington, who is responsible for the most significant body of fiction about the people and landscape of Arkansas; and to name someone I’ve discovered only recently, Yan Ge, whose novel “Strange Beasts of China” was just translated into English and is the best book I’ve read so far this year.

When did you feel you had enough income or savings to be comfortable writing for a living?

I was fortunate to receive an advance on my first two books that allowed me, living frugally, to write full time for a while. That was in 2001. Since then, I’ve kept myself going book by book, though I do teach every so often as a visiting professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I’ve spent six semesters there over the years, conducting graduate seminars and workshops in contemporary fiction, children’s fiction, and science fiction and fantasy, and I expect to return for a seventh semester in 2022.

Are there literary advantages to living in Arkansas, far from many cultural influencers?

I usually say Arkansas is an unusual place to be an author but a good place to write books. We’re far from the center of literary activity — at least public literary activity — which means that writers here have the disadvantage of isolation and operate in some ways from the shadows. The advantage is, well, that we’re isolated and operate in some ways from the shadows. Both in artistic terms and logistical ones, there can be considerable freedom in creating something when you imagine no one is looking. And fortunately, when it comes to books, you don’t have to be living anywhere in particular to encounter almost any work that’s being done in the form, which is less true of the performative (dance, live music, theater) or non-reproducible arts (painting, sculpture).

What misconceptions do others have about writers?

This isn’t a profound misconception, but it’s very common: When they learn what I do, the first question non-writers often ask is whether I publish using my own name or a pseudonym, I imagine because people are taught about famous writers and their pseudonyms in elementary school and it’s the kind of detail that sticks. I do know at least one or two writers who use pseudonyms — but that’s one or two out of hundreds and hundreds, probably thousands.