Photo by David Baumbach

In this week’s PEN Ten, Lauren Cerand, co-founder of the PEN Ten interview, speaks with Jonathan Baumbach.

When did being a writer begin to inform your sense of identity?

As far back as I remember, I thought of myself as a writer. My father was a painter and I wanted to make art of my own in one way or another.

Whose work would you like to steal without attribution or consequences?

No one.

Obsessions are influences—what are yours?

I am taken—obsessed if you will—with the idea of making fictions.

What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever put into words?

My third novel, Reruns, was a breakthrough work, a discovery of the kind of fiction I most wanted to write.

Have you ever been arrested? Care to discuss?

I’ve never been arrested.

When, if ever, is censorship acceptable?

Censorship is never acceptable.

What is the responsibility of the writer?

One writes to discover a truth that is truer than what existed before.

While the notion of the public intellectual has fallen out of fashion, do you believe writers have a collective purpose?

I am not concerned, perhaps marginally, with the missions of other writers.

What book would you send to the leader of a government that imprisons writers?

A copy of the Bill of Rights and perhaps Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Where is the line between observation and surveillance?

Surveillance is an intrusion on one’s privacy. Observation is the province of everyone.  

Co-founder of the Fiction Collective in 1973 (reinvented as FC2 in 1988), Jonathan Baumbach is the author of 14 books of fiction and over 90 published stories. His work has appeared in Esquire, American Review, Tri Quarterly, Partisan Reviewand Iowa Review, and has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize, and The Best of Tri-Quarterly. His new books are The Pavilion of Former Wives (Dzanc Books, December 13, 2016) and Shots in the Dark: Collected Film Criticism (The Critical Press, February 14).