Dawn Raffel is the author of Carrying the Body (a novel) and In the Year of Long Division (short stories). A new collection, Further Adventures in the Restless Universe, will be published in March, 2010. Her stories have appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, Conjunctions, Fence, Open City, The Mississippi Review Prize Anthology, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, Arts & Letters, The Quarterly, NOON and numerous other periodicals and anthologies. She was a fiction editor for many years and was Executive Articles Editor at O, The Oprah Magazine. She is currently Editor-at-Large at More magazine and an adjunct assistant professor in the MFA program at Columbia University. She lives outside of New York City with her husband and sons, and can be reached at [email protected]
David F. Hoenigman: What projects are you currently working on?
Dawn Raffel: I have a new collection, Further Adventures in the Restless Universe, which will be published by Dzanc Books in March 2010. I suppose it is really a response to the sudden deaths of both of my parents; I started looking at the question of what people do with loss. Not all of the stories are about death, however—several are about loss of self-concept or loss of connection. Artistically, I wanted to get away from the Byzantine sentence structures of my first two books—to pare everything down and force the composition to do the work. Here are links to two of the shorter stories: “The Myth of Drowning” appeared in Guernica and has just been made as a short film in Brazil. “North of the Middle” appeared in the Brooklyn Rail.
DH: When and why did you begin writing?
DR: My mother used to say that I was born with a book in my hand. But I did not start seriously writing fiction until I was 30, after I had already been a fiction editor for many years.
DH: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
DR: Still working on it!
DH: What inspired you to write your first book?
DR: In the Year of Long Division started as individual stories; as I went forward, I began to see a theme emerging, which had to do with the divide between feeling and language, between the vastness of our experience and that tiny fraction of it that finds its expression in speech.
DH: Who or what has influenced your writing? How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
DR: I’m answering these two questions together because my childhood in the Midwest had a huge influence on my writing, which is saturated with a sense of place. I think that perhaps Pinter and Albee–and the years I studied theater — influenced the way I approach dialogue. Neither playwright has anything to do with the Midwest, but their speech corresponded to something interior in me. I also studied with Gordon Lish, who taught me to pay attention to the acoustical properties of the sentence and to rely heavily on the composition itself to promote an effect.
DH: Do you have a specific writing style?
DR: I’m not sure that’s a question an author can answer. I try, from book to book, to be in flight from the last thing I wrote, to avoid deploying the same gestures and tactics. Right now, I’m writing a historical novel, which is forcing me into a whole new place.
DH: What genre are you most comfortable writing?
DR: I love stories, and my first novel, Carrying to Body, is written in very short chapters, many of which were initially published as individual pieces. I suspect this new novel will be in short takes as well.
DH: What book are you reading now? Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
DR: At the moment, I’m immersed in research (diaries, documents) and my students’ work. Generally speaking, I have a “classics-only” rule for the summer, which is sort of like hitting the reset button. The most recent works I’ve read by new authors are yours, David, as well as Poolsaid, a chapbook by Shya Scanlon http://www.theliteraryreview.org/chap.html
DH: What is the most misunderstood aspect of your work?
DR: Carrying the Body was reviewed in the US through a therapy lens, as a story of family dysfunction. It wasn’t until the book was picked up by a group of academics in France that someone understood it as I intended: a redemptive fall. Monica Manolescu-Oancea, under the aegis of the Observatoire de Litterature Amaericaine, wrote and published a long critical piece in France that was like having your dream reader review the book. (The essay was published in slightly different form in the American journal NOON). The point I want to make to any younger writers out there is that it’s a big world. Despite the depressing nature of the marketplace, I try to keep writing for that ideal reader.
About the author:
David F. Hoenigman is the author of Burn Your Belongings.