Academic journal article The Mississippi Quarterly

Interview with Lewis Nordan, at His Home in Pittsburgh, May 19, 2001. (Interview)

Academic journal article The Mississippi Quarterly

Interview with Lewis Nordan, at His Home in Pittsburgh, May 19, 2001. (Interview)

Article excerpt

THOMAS BJERRE: FROM READING YOUR BOOKS it becomes clear that a few themes run like leitmotifs through your work: dead and absent fathers, dead and absent sons, the terrible realization that we are all alone in the world. Now that you have written a memoir, it is obvious that these themes draw on very personal experiences that you've modeled over and over in your fiction. Do you think these are themes that will continue to haunt your writing, or do you feel that by writing the memoir, by laying the facts down, you have come more to terms with them?

LEBIS NORDAN: Well, this is really getting right to the heart of the matter in the beginning. At this point I don't really know the answer to the question, because I haven't been able to write since Boy With Loaded Gun came out. There are a couple of guesses I can make as to why writing hasn't come to me. One of them is that I did exorcise some of those demons that inform the fiction, and they just don't have the power that they had previously to churn up things in my psyche or my unconsciousness or my creative space. Another thing, though, is that I have been suffering a neurological ailment and it required that I take some medication that took away my imagination, took away my short-term memory, and took away a lot of the affect of my life. So I have been very flatlined, not emotionally so much as imaginatively, for a couple of years now. Luckily I no longer have to take [the medication], and I'm preparing myself to begin writing again in June. And so I'll find out what I've got to say. I suspect that these old themes are never completely dealt with and that they will return. But at this point I really don't know.

TB: You said you were going to start writing in June. Do you have a certain writing process once you get an idea?

LN: I even have a certain process before I get an idea. About every year, I go to this artist retreat in Virginia. It's called the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. It's a converted dairy farm. About twenty artists can go there, writers, visual artists, musicians. And I stay a month; this year it will be the month of June. They do everything for you. They cook the meals, bring your lunch at lunchtime, and make your bed, and the whole thing. So there's really nothing to do but write. It's a rural retreat. So I'll go there with just the barest of ideas and begin writing, and see what happens. In fact, that's how I wrote Wolf Whistle. I had no idea what I was about to write until I got there and started to write.

TB: So there are other artists around at the same time?

LN: We all live in a residence hall, each has a private room, and we eat dinner together. Some of us have breakfast together. But we don't really see each other except at the morning meal and the evening meal. We spend all day at work, and some of us even work at night. But there are artists around and there is conversation to be had, and we go out to movies occasionally. It's a communal thing, but not the kind of thing where you share your work and get criticism.

TB: Like many other writers before you, you have created a place for your stories, your own "postage-stamp of soil," as Faulkner called it. Your place is Arrow Catcher, Mississippi, loosely based on your hometown of Itta Bena. After having explored this piece of land in so much of your fiction, could you imagine leaving it and setting a novel in, for instance, Pittsburgh? I guess you did leave it in Lightning Song, but you didn't leave Mississippi.

LN: That's right. I left it in Lightning Song to go to a kind of hill country. I thought the people were slightly different and needed a different locale. And in Boy With Loaded Gun, some scenes, some chapters, toward the end, were set outside of Mississippi. So over and over, I imagine that I'm going to do this. I have started literally almost every book that I have written since and including Music of the Swamp--each of those books has started out being in Pittsburgh. …

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