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Meet the WritersImage of William T. Vollmann
William T. Vollmann
Fearless, ambitious, and wildly original, William T. Vollmann has been lionized as one of the most significant and influential voices in contemporary postmodernist literature. His dauntingly voluminous books, a hodgepodge of fiction and journalism, are marked by bold, often beautiful language. They also spring from personal experience: Volmann is famous for total immersion in his subjects. His research has taken him to the ends of the earth – to the North Pole, to war zones around the globe, and (perhaps most famously) to San Francisco's notorious Tenderloin district to gain a better understanding of its notorious denizens..

Vollmann roared onto the literary scene in 1987 with You Bright and Risen Angels, a bold and quirky debut novel that chronicled in allegorical fashion the bitter battle between insects and the inventors of electricity. From that point on, his books became less surreal and more gritty. In 1992, he wrote his first "official" work of nonfiction, An Afghanistan Picture Show , an impressionistic chronicle of his experiences among the Afghan rebels in the early 1980s. Since then, the prolific author has produced an unstoppable juggernaut of prose, most notably installments in his towering fictional sequence Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes and a labyrinthine seven-volume treatise on violence called Rising Up, Rising Down. Published by the iconoclastic publishing house McSweeney's in 2003, this magnum opus was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction.

In 1999, The New Yorker named Vollmann one of the 20 best American writers under the age of 40. In 2005, he was awarded the National Book Award for Fiction for Europe Central, a 750-page series of linked stories set in Germany and Russia during World War II. His journalism continues to appear in such magazines as Esquire, Spin, Gear, Outside, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, and The New Yorker. In addition, he has founded the Co-Tangent Press as a vehicle for publishing his own limited edition art books.

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Good to Know
Vollmann wrote his first novel, You Bright and Risen Angels, while working as a computer programmer.

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In the fall of 2005, William T. Vollmann took some time out to tell us about some of his favorite books, authors, and interests.

What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Maldoror by the Comte de Lautremont. Beautiful sentences combined with evil negativism.

What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?

  • Danilo Kis, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich (A, G)
  • William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (A, B, E)
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot (D, E, G)
  • Lady Murasaki, The Tale of Gengi (A, B, C, D, E, F, G)
  • Tadeusz Konwicki, A Dreambook of our Time (A, E, F)
  • Montaigne, Complete Essays (D, E, F)
  • Kawabata Yasunori, Snow County (C, D, E, G)
  • Mishima Yukio, The Sea of Fertility (B, E, F)
  • Manes Sperber, Like a Tear in the Ocean (F, D)
  • Micheline Marco, The Daydreaming Boy (A, E, F, G)

    A = Perfect Language
    B = Construction of a coherent, alien (to me) world
    C = Profound investigation of love
    D = Richly complex pattern
    E = Revelations about memory vs. loss
    F = Political lessons
    G = Erotic Beauty

    What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
    Blowup, Solaris, Andrei Rubelev, In the Realm of the Senses -- because all of these are slow, elegant, haunting, erotic.

    What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
    Scarlatti, Shostakovich, Ry Cooder, Paula Keyth.

    What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
    1) Library of America
    2) Art books
    3) Pornography
    4) Alternative process photography manuals

    Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
    No. A pen, a notebook, a computer.

    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 decades of hard work for me to get where I am today: in the gutter.

    What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
    Don't write for money.

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  • About the Writer
    *William T. Vollmann Home
    * Biography
    * Good to Know
    * Interview
    In Our Other Stores
    * Signed, First Editions by William T. Vollmann
    *You Bright and Risen Angels, 1987
    *Rainbow Stories, 1989
    *The Ice-Shirt, 1990
    *Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs, 1991
    *Whores for Gloria, 1992
    *Fathers and Crows, 1992
    *An Afghanistan Picture Show, or, how I Saved the World, 1992
    *Butterfly Stories, 1993
    *Rifles, 1994
    *The Atlas, 1996
    *Royal Family, 2000
    *Argall, 2001
    *Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means, 2003
    *Europe Central, 2005
    *Uncentering the Earth: Copernicus and The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, 2006
    *Poor People, 2007