René Steinke is the author of The Fires and Holy Skirts. She is the editor in chief of The Literary Review and teaches creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She lives in Brooklyn.
Author biography courtesy of HarperCollins.
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When she's not writing, Steinke plays keyboards in a rock band called Ruffian.
In December 2004, she gave birth to a baby boy.
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In the fall of 2005, René Steinke took some time out to talk with us about some of her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov reveals the humanity in Humbert Humbert and makes the reader feel compassion for this character, even at his most insane, murderous moments. I think it's important for people to be able to imagine the inner lives of others -- especially those who might be easy to dismiss or demonize. When I was writing The Fires and Holy Skirts, Nabokov was an inspiration, not only for his fearlessness but also for his amazing and joyful writing.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?Don DeLillo, Underworld -- A huge and wonderful book about the power of history and the meaning to be found in garbage (or what might ordinarily be seen as garbage).
William Goyen, House of Breath -- I grew up in Texas, and this is the funniest, most vivid story about small-town Texans that I know -- Goyen makes Texas speech into a kind of song.
Lydia Davis, The End of the Story -- A compelling account of a writer's love affair. Davis writes sentences that are masterpieces in themselves.
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse -- Woolf writes like no one else about the small moments in family life, and when I first read this book, I was stunned by the way she manipulates time.
Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin and Lolita -- Pnin, the story of an awkward Russian professor, is brilliant, hilarious, and very, very sad.
Djuna Barnes, Nightwood: Inspirational both for its baroque imagery and its depiction of bohemian life in the early part of the 20th century. Barnes was a friend of the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (the main character of Holy Skirts), and there is a convincing theory that a minor character in the novel is drawn from the Baroness.
William Gass, On Being Blue -- This is a brilliant philosophical inquiry about writing and art (through the color and word "blue"), but it reads sometimes like a memoir, sometimes like poetry.
Elizabeth Bishop, The Complete Poems: Bishop's poems have a reticence and specificity that I love. I read "Casabianca" at my wedding. I often require my students to memorize "One Art."
Denis Johnson, Jesus' Son -- These are devastating, memorable stories. They examine spiritual ideas through unexpected characters and scenarios: a hitchhiker who winds up in a car crash, for instance.
Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts -- A strangely funny and beautiful exploration of suffering, told through the adventures of an advice columnist.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
The Wizard of Oz. The colors and images still seem magical, as they did when I first saw the film as a child.
I also love all the Almodóvar movies -- for their outlandish characters, and the way the plots veer from funny to sad.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I like rock music and country music mainly. At the moment, my two favorites are PJ Harvey and Lucinda Williams. I need complete silence when I'm writing, but I sometimes listen to music for research.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
Either everyone would choose their favorite obscure book, or everyone would choose their favorite classic.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
Unusual books the recipient wouldn't have thought to buy for herself.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I try to write every day, in the morning, but I have no other ritual, other than a need for quiet.
What are you working on now?
A novel set in Texas.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
It took me seven years to write my first novel and over five years (not including research) to write Holy Skirts.
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
William Goyen, because his books are exquisitely original. He had some success in his lifetime, but now his books are hard to find.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Write every day, and read as much as you can.
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