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Conversations with Jonathan Lethem

Conversations with Jonathan Lethem

Edited by Jaime Clarke
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 224
  • Book Info
    Conversations with Jonathan Lethem
    Book Description:

    Conversations with Jonathan Lethemcollects fourteen interviews, conducted over a decade and a half, with the Brooklyn-born author of such novels asGirl in Landscape,Motherless Brooklyn,The Fortress of Solitude,Chronic City, and many others. Winner of the National Book Critics' Circle Award, Lethem (b. 1964) covers a wide range of subjects, from what it means to incorporate genre into literature, to the impact of the death of his mother on his life and work, to his being a permanent "sophomore on leave" from Bennington College, as well as his flight from Brooklyn to California and its lasting effect on his fiction. Lethem also reveals the many literary and pop culture influences that have informed his writing life.

    Readers will find Lethem as charming and generous and intelligent as his work. His examination of what it means to live a creative life will reverberate and enlighten scholars and fans alike. His thoughts on science fiction, intellectual property, literary realism, genre, movies, and rock 'n' roll are articulated with elán throughout the collection, as are his comments on his own development as a craftsman.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-964-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xx)

    My first memory of Jonathan Lethem is from a literary event at Joe’s Pub in New York City, circa the late 1990s: in being introduced to the stage, the speaker, who had known Lethem from his days living in Berkeley, told an amusing story about picking Lethem up for some sort of doings, only to be made to wait while Lethem finished up a piece of writing he was working on. As applause brought Lethem to the stage, he shuffled some paper and remarked, “Sorry, I didn’t catch most of that, I was just working on the ending of a...

  4. Chronology
    (pp. xxi-2)
  5. Private Hells and Radical Doubts: An Interview with Jonathan Lethem
    (pp. 3-23)
    Fiona Kelleghan and Jonathan Lethem

    Jonathan Lethem began publishing short fiction in 1989 with “The Cave Beneath the Falls,” whichLocusmagazine promoted in its list of recommended stories. Since then, he has received Nebula nominations for the stories “The Happy Man” (1991) and “Five Fucks” (1996). His first novel,Gun, with Occasional Music(1994), a near-future murder mystery, won the 1995 Locus Award for Best First Novel and Crawford Award for Best First Fantasy Novel, and was another Nebula nominee.Gunwas followed by the novelsAmnesia Moon(1995),As She Climbed Across the Table(1997), andGirl in Landscape(1998), and by the...

  6. An Interview with Jonathan Lethem
    (pp. 24-31)
    Michael Silverblatt and Jonathan Lethem

    Silverblatt: Hello, and welcome toBookworm. This is Michael Silverblatt and today my guest is Jonathan Lethem. He’s the author most recently ofMotherless Brooklyn, a book from Doubleday, and in, well, the first book was calledGun, with Occasional Music, followed byAmnesia Moon, then a book of short stories,The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye, As She Climbed Across the Table, andGirl in Landscape. Now, he writes my favorite kind of book, which is a sort of fantasy containing elements of science fiction, mystery, but not locatable in any genre, almost as if...

  7. “Involuntary Deconstructionism”: Paradoxa Interview with Jonathan Lethem
    (pp. 32-45)
    Shelley Jackson and Jonathan Lethem

    Jonathan Lethem has snuck up on the literary establishment from the underside. His first novel,Gun, with Occasional Music, was part science fiction, part hardboiled detective novel; later books have paid due to other reaches of what is called genre writing, while dodging easy labels themselves. This shifty behavior could be a publicist’s nightmare, but Jonathan has made a name for himself. Apparently he is easy to spot behind his masks. He earned his mainstream stripes with last year’sMotherless Brooklyn, a crime novel (but also, as he points out below, “a Bildungsroman, a family romance, a coming-of-age story …...

  8. The Art of Fiction No. 177: Jonathan Lethem
    (pp. 46-68)
    Lorin Stein and Jonathan Lethem

    Jonathan Lethem was born in 1964, the son of the painter Richard Lethem and the late political activist Judith Lethem. His first three novels earned him a following among readers of crime novels and science fiction, and a reputation among readers of experimental novels as a pasticheur whose parodies had an uncanny beauty and depth of their own:Gun, with Occasional Music(1994) is the first and only volume in a notional series of Chandleresque whodunits.Amnesia Moon(1995) is a post-apocalyptic road novel.As She Climbed Across the Table(1997) is an academic novel, a Don DeLillo spoof, about...

  9. An Interview with Jonathan Lethem
    (pp. 69-77)
    Michael Silverblatt and Jonathan Lethem

    Silverblatt: From KCRW Santa Monica I’m Michael Silverblatt and this isBookworm. Today I’m happy to have as my guest Jonathan Lethem, whose new bookThe Fortress of Solitudehas recently been published by Doubleday. It’s a big novel. It’s his biggest book I think to date.

    Lethem: Yeah. Twice as long as anything before.

    Silverblatt: Wow.

    Lethem: They’ve disguised it with nice thin sheets of paper but it’s double the length.

    Silverblatt: I want to find a way to go through this book, since a lot of people are talking about it but it seems to me that they’re...

  10. Interview with Jonathan Lethem
    (pp. 78-99)
    Sarah Anne Johnson and Jonathan Lethem

    Q: How did you get started writing and what did you do to develop your craft?

    A: Like every single person you’ve ever interviewed, I was a voracious reader. I grew up in an artist’s household. My father was a painter. It was in the air. It was my family’s milieu. My first memories are in his studio watching him paint. My mother was a great reader, a bohemian, and a brilliant talker. Language, literature, painting, the idea that you would make artifacts and that you would love books or music, was innate. This was an enormous advantage. So many...

  11. A Conversation with Jonathan Lethem
    (pp. 100-115)
    James Schiff and Jonathan Lethem

    Jonathan Lethem is the author of six novels, includingThe Fortress of SolitudeandMotherless Brooklyn, the latter of which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named novel of the year byEsquire. He is also the author of two short story collections and one volume of essays, and his writings have appeared in theNew Yorker, Rolling Stone, Esquire,and theParis Review.

    Lethem’s fiction has been described as inventive, incandescent, visionary, and wickedly funny. He is, perhaps, best known for bending and conflating genres—whether stitching together science fiction and hard-boiled detective conventions, mixingAlice...

  12. Birnbaum v. Jonathan Lethem
    (pp. 116-132)
    Robert Birnbaum and Jonathan Lethem

    Since I last spoke with Jonathan Lethem, author of six novels, the most recent of which isThe Fortress of Solitude, he has published a collection of stories,Men and Cartoons, andThe Disappointment Artist, a book of what can loosely be called essays. He has also recently won a MacArthur Fellowship and has begun splitting his residence between Maine and Brooklyn. He is currently working on another novel and considering adding a dog to his family.

    On any given weekend in the summer, the literary population of metro New York is significantly diminished and, consequently, Maine’s is swollen by...

  13. Seattlest Interview: Jonathan Lethem
    (pp. 133-140)
    Courtney W. Nash and Jonathan Lethem

    Jonathan Lethem understands what being an unabashed fan feels like, and we are an unabashed, dorky fan of his many books and recent essays. When we heard that he is non-exclusively sharing some of his short stories for $1 to be reused in other works of art (films, songs, etc.) and he is giving away the option to his new novelYou Don’t Love Me Yet, and releasing the ancillary rights after five years, we realized he was moving even further into territory very dear to our heart. We chatted with him in advance of his appearance at the Seattle...

  14. An Interview with Jonathan Lethem
    (pp. 141-148)
    Michael Silverblatt and Jonathan Lethem

    Silverblatt: From KCRW Santa Monica, I’m Michael Silverblatt and this isBookworm. Today I’m happy to have as my guest Jonathan Lethem, whose new novelYou Don’t Love Me Yethas just been published by Doubleday. He’s the author as well, to talk about the books in the latter half of his career so far, ofMotherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude, Men in Cartoons,which is a collection of stories,The Disappointment Artist, a collection of essays, and now,You Don’t Love Me Yet. We haven’t seen him around here sinceThe Fortress of Solitudeso we’ll be talking...

  15. Jonathan Lethem and Lydia Millet
    (pp. 149-157)
    Lydia Millet and Jonathan Lethem

    Lethem, who won the National Book Critics Circle Award for his fifth novelMotherless Brooklyn, grew up in Brooklyn and Kansas City and trained as a painter before turning to writing in his early twenties. Recently he’s offered some of his short stories for free to filmmakers and others who wish to adapt them, through his own version of the open-source movement, which he calls thePromiscuous Materialsproject. He also recently married for the third time and in May 2007 had a baby son, Everett. His most recent novel isYou Don’t Love Me Yet, out in paperback from...

  16. “If Dean Street Could Talk”: Jonathan Lethem
    (pp. 158-164)
    Brian Berger and Jonathan Lethem

    Jonathan Lethem isn’t just any Brooklyn writer—he grew up there, on Dean Street, between Bond and Nevins specifically. This is well known, of course, and this geographical fact defined the forty-five-year-old’s most celebrated work, the Tourettec tour-Detective-forceMotherless Brooklyn(1999), and its follow-up, which can be briefly described as the autobiography of a place,The Fortress of Solitude(2003). That place is so-called Boerum Hill, a sixties real estate fiction primarily designed to obscure the area’s race- and class-riven history. That this history—and, indeed, even in an era of hyper-gentrification, its multilayered, multiethnic residential and industrial reality—remains...

  17. The Rumpus Long Interview with Jonathan Lethem
    (pp. 165-174)
    Ronnie Scott and Jonathan Lethem

    Jonathan Lethem’s new book,Chronic City, is so damn big it’s overstuffed; or that’s what Michiko Kakutani says. Fair enough: It’s at different times to different strengths concerned by technology, space, local government, war; there is then a fear of the false, a fear of the real, the fear of all components of the simulacra, basically, and then above all, of the city. As often as it feels like it’s a present-day story,Chronic Cityseems to me as though it lives down somewhere deeper in the past. And if it does need overstuffing just to fit all that it...

  18. An Interview with Jonathan Lethem
    (pp. 175-182)
    Michael Silverblatt and Jonathan Lethem

    Silverblatt: I’m Michael Silverblatt and this isBookworm. Today I’m happy to have as my guest Jonathan Lethem, whose newest book,Chronic City, has recently been published by Doubleday. He’s the author as well of, among other things, oh,Fortress of Solitude, Motherless Brooklyn, You Don’t Know Me Yet, Girl in Landscape, As She Climbed Across the Table,a raft of novels, essays. And he has edited, I think, the three volumes in the Library of American collections of Philip K. Dick and done an introduction recently for the New Directions edition ofMiss Lonelyhearts, a recent essay about his...

  19. Index
    (pp. 183-191)