Author Antonya Nelson on LitFest, buying books and Funny Once

Author Antonya Nelson.
Author Antonya Nelson.

Paint the town read! As LitFest 2014 continues at Lighthouse Writer's Workshop, we caught up with award-winning author Antonya Nelson, who'll be teaching two classes this week and participate in a free reading on Thursday, June 19. Nelson teaches creative writing at the University of Houston and is the author of three novels and four short-story collections; her work regularly appears in the New Yorker, Harper's and Best American Short Stories. We chatted with her about what inspires her -- and the first thing she'd advise a writer.

See also: Ryan Policky and The Enigma on their horror-themed booth at Denver Comic Con

Westword: Have you been to LitFest before? Antonya Nelson: I have not. My husband was there last year, I believe. He seemed to have had a good time. I've been hearing good things. Seems like something that needed to happen. I'm looking forward to it.

What's your favorite thing about writer's gatherings or conferences in general?

I think what I like best is that when people give talks or workshops, it doesn't really matter what level you are as a writer, whether you are a beginner or you've been around the block a bit, there's something that you can take away from every session. It sort of revs you up again.... That's why I like teaching, too: It reminds me and makes me responsible to my own craft. I like hearing other writers just about the way they approach writing. It gives me energy for my own work. It's weird; I'm always taking notes about fiction when I'm listening to people talk about craft. I've just found so many notebooks in the past full of story ideas that have come to me while listening to somebody who's talking about craft. But also, reading recommendations I always welcome. There are so many books that it's great to have somebody be enthusiastic and advocating for a book you've never heard of and it becomes something you really love.

Do you buy a lot of books?

Yeah, I buy a ton of books. Most of them are new books. I get somehow introduced to something that's been forgotten or pushed aside. I just finished reading The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson. It's a movie I really liked once upon a time, and I had no idea it was a book. Somebody recommended it and I found it in some used bookstore. That kind of thing.

You've written several short-story collections and novels and you teach writing. If there was one thing you would teach all your students about the craft of writing, what would it be?

I guess the thing I would say most fervently is that your original impulse to write something is an impulse you should trust, and that if it doesn't work on the first draft, which it hardly ever does, the commitment to revising ought to be something you embrace really early. And to revise and revise and revise. Finding pleasure in revision is the thing I would most strongly advise to people. It's not something I did as a younger writer; I learned it over time.

So what are you teaching at LitFest?

I'm doing a workshop with student stories. And I'm also teaching two classes. One of them is about modeling, using older stories or tales or forms to write a new piece. The other class is about what the first chapter of a novel ought to do. So, two different sessions about those things.

And you're doing a reading towards the end of LitFest. Do you know what you're going to read from?

There's a new book out called Funny Once, and I'm going to read from that. Just a short piece. I think I've going to read from the novella that's the last part of the book. I hope it will be funny. I'm going to read a portion that's set at a workshop.

Very meta.

Yes, exactly.

LitFest runs through Friday, June 20, with classes, free readings and discussions every day, as well as a closing party on June 20. Find the complete schedule on the Lighthouse site.

National Book Award winner Mark Doty at Lit Fest.
National Book Award winner Mark Doty at Lit Fest.
Rob Clement | RCVisual


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