In lieu of our usual Contributor Spotlight posts, we’re reviving our series “So You Wanna Win a Book Prize?” in the run-up to the Prairie Schooner Book P
P(rivate)S(paces) w/ Garth Risk Hallberg
Garth Risk Hallberg is the author of the novella A Field Guide to the North American Family. His stories and essays have been published in Best New American Voices, The New York Times Magazine, Prairie Schooner, New York, Glimmer Train, Slate, Canteen, and The Pinch, as well as at The Millions, where he’s a contributing editor. A 2008 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Fiction, Garth teaches at Fordham University and Sarah Lawrence College. He’s in the late innings of a novel.
(Photo by Jordan Alport.)
Name three things of particular significance on your writing desk at the moment.
A babyfood jar full of pencil shavings; The Compact Oxford English Dictionary; manuscript pages.
Name one classic you've long been wanting to read.
I’ve been inching my way through Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans for about six or seven years now.
Why haven't you read it?
I only want to read it in the summer – it has that Whitmanic way of deepening your receptiveness to grass, sunlight on water, and so on – and by the time I pick it up again each June, I’ve forgotten who’s who and what’s going on. As if I ever had any idea who’s who and what’s going on.
Is there any particular music or musician that puts you in the mood to write?
I’ve never understood how people who are not poets answer this question in any affirmative way; at the desk I tend to want silence broken only by the ambient noises of (faroff) trees, animals, and/or street life. But my current schedule involves dropping my son off at daycare and then walking 15 minutes back home before sitting down to work in the morning, and I guess my brain’s a little looser and less annoyingly purposive if I listen to music during that time. Since the thing I’m working on is set in the ‘70s, I like to keep the playlist thereabouts: Patti Smith, Dirty Mind, Darkness On The Edge of Town, Transformer, “Trenchtown Rock,” The Clash, Talking Heads... Patti Smith, especially, is a kind of deity presiding over this book. I wish I could write with guts like that.
Name a favorite book in your possession: a favorite not just for content but for its actual physical qualities.
I just did an insane thing and bought the original 7-volume hardcover edition of William T. Vollmann’s study of violence, Rising Up and Rising Down. I tell myself this is all part of multiyear preparation for writing about the bewitching and frequently catastrophic Vollmann oeuvre, but unlike The Good Soldier Svejk, which I will some day get to, this is a book I’ll never finish. It is like something beamed into my hands via time machine from the 17th Century.
Read more about Garth at his web site.