INTERVIEW: SAM LIPSYTE

A few weeks ago we were lucky enough to interview Sam Lipsyte over e-mail. Lipsyte is a writer based in New York City and a professor of creative writing at Columbia University. His work has appeared in McSweeneys, the Believer and various collections of contemporary short fiction. He already has two novels under his belt as well as a collection of short stories.

His latest book, “Home Land” is hilarious. Its about a guy named Teabag. As if that isn’t enough, it is also a pretty real take on the formulaic high school coming of age story and sheds some crucial insight into what it means to sort of flounder around in your home town when it has very little left to offer you. Without ever really mentioning bands (aside from the fake corporate rock group Spacklefinger) it manages to still be probably the best punk rock novel ever written, though perhaps that isn’t really such a mighty title. And though part of its charm lies in how relatable it is to anyone who has ever had troubles fitting in, it is so well crafted that you probably don’t even have to be/have once been a total loser to find it funny.

So permit us to break from what has been our blog formula. I know that our legions of adoring fans will become infected with rage, ingeniously hack their ways into finding out our IP numbers and all of our home addresses (1627 st hubert) and send us hurtful messages scrawled on packages of poop. when they see that this is neither an invented interior monologue of some verbose literati performing a base or mundane task nor an example of how we imagine all dumb jocks sound when they talk to themselves in their heads. This is actually an interview with an actual writer whose work we actually enjoy.

Like several other pieces posted on this blog, this has already appeared in STEPS magazine.

Where is your home land?SL: I’ve been based in New York for 16 years, but I guess New Jersey is still my home land. I’d like to think of myself as a citizen of the world, but I’m not sure I’ve got the right pants.

 

Are there a lot of Teabags hanging out in New Jersey diners? Does NJ breed teabags?

SL: There is a Teabag inside each of us. And yes, also in certain New Jersey diners, especially along Route 9W near the George Washington Bridge.

Can you describe Lewis for someone who has never read the book?

SL: He’s the narrator of a novel you should read.

What do you think is the relationship between a writer and their home town? Do you think that writers are ever stuck in the place that they are from?

SL: Some people think that place is everything in fiction. I’m not one of those people, but the setting was certainly a big factor in this book. When my first book of stories came out a lot of people from my home town were pissed off, or so I heard. I didn’t go back but word leaked out to me that I’d somehow betrayed them. Maybe they were afraid the suggestion that sad, confused people could come from such a place might drive property values down.

Do you think that the notion of a writer’s identity has changed since the web boom? Often writers come to be associated with the city that they come from or write about most frequently. Do you think that online publishing and and the rise of the Internet in general risks loosening the connection between writer and land?

SL: Well, sure, but it’s not just writers, it’s everybody. We’re all floating around in our wireless limbos. If we’re disconnected from the land it’s because the land is likely owned by some conglomerate. There are a few hold-outs, of course, and you have some writers like Thomas McGuane who writes about ranching with the authority of somebody living on the land, but as fewer and fewer people live that life fewer writers will be able to write about it. I don’t think the internet is a cause. It’s a symptom, and an implement, of a larger phenomenon.

Life on this planet has changed in the last few decades. Conceptually, it’s grown smaller, with the advent of the global idea. The notion of nation states has has both withered and grown in reaction to these changes, wealth is becoming ever more concentrated, communities exist over vast distances while many live among strangers.

In the 90s you worked at FEED magazine. Has your work been influenced at all by working with e-hypertext or any aspect of the online medium? Since “Home Land” is written in short public installments, it is almost as though Lewis maintains and updates an offline blog.

SL: There is something bloggy about the updates, to be sure. Especially as halfway through the book Lewis starts to submit them electronically. The work I did at Feed was mostly to commission and edit the kinds of culture pieces that could run in Harper’s, or, say, The Walrus, so I wasn’t so involved with hypertext. I was familiar with the burgeoning forms in college, where writers like Robert Coover were beginning to plug into those possibilities back in the early nineties. But though the ideas and the technology were exciting, I often found that the writing sometimes suffered. Perhaps because they were so enamored of the gizmos, people weren’t paying as much attention to their sentences. If you’re a great writer like Coover, it’s not a problem. But if you are just starting out, it might be. I’ve seen some cool stuff though. A lot of it also serves as a good reminder of what’s still possible on the page, if people can break out of set ideas about fiction.

Gary pops up in Home Land as well as some of the stories in Venus Drive. Who is Gary?

SL: Gary is the one-thumbed beast who stalks me through all of my writing. I guess I keep writing about him because I’m not really sure who Gary is.

Have you ever been teabagged?

SL: Only by history.

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