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

Although I barely think of myself as a writer any more, it was indeed part of my early teen identity. I was in boarding from the age of 12, so letters were my primary mode of communication to the outside world. And I got attention for my writing, which was like crack to me. Partly, it was true recognition in an environment in which I felt largely a freak; partially a way to no longer in fact be a real freak. I could be compelling on the page in ways I couldn’t be in person.

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

Theft and attribution and such are topics of much interest to me. I like shamelessly standing atop the shoulders of others; my real work is to channel others, so it would be boring to me to present it in some unattributed fashion.

Where is your favorite place to write?

I like writing with a breeze.

Have you ever been arrested? Care to discuss?

I’m a wimp. Or maybe I just hate being caught.

Obsessions are influences—what are yours?

Dead: Brecht. Artaud. DW Winnicott. Borges. Flann O’Brien. Barney Rossett. Heiner Mueller. Jacques Lacan. Pierre Bourdieu. Iris Murdoch. Alive: Lynne Tillman. Clay Shirky. Lydia Millet. Vanessa Veselka. Kio Stark. Sherri Wasserman. Kevin Young. Colson Whitehead. Clayton Christensen. James Bridle. Kevin Slavin. Bob Stein. Richard Foreman. Danah Boyd.

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

Probably telling editors they’re not really very good at selecting what should be published.

What is the responsibility of the writer?

To not be boring.

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

Hasn’t fallen out of fashion with me. But I do believe in the disciplined and humble public intellectual, the one who challenges herself to learn about the topic whereon she is to opine. The collective purpose of writers is to be the best readers in the world.

What message would you send to an imprisoned writer?

The most successful piece of writing I ever wrote was a letter to a refugee explaining how the mail helps to promote world peace. This was in 1986, when I was 15. It was a UNESCO-sponsored competition. I reread it recently and was a little mortified by how sentimental it was. Yet really, it’s exactly what I should have written, had I it to do over. I’d beg the imprisoned writer to try to remember her teenaged self. The intensity, the outrage, the sentiment, the naïveté, the resentment, the joy.

What book would you send to the leader of his or her government?

Just that poem of Shelley’s: “Ozymandias“:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,|
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”


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