Christine Schutt is the author of a short-story collection, Nightwork, chosen by poet John Ashbery as the best book of 1996 for the Times Literary Supplement. She earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Columbia University and studied at Barnard with novelist and critic Elizabeth Hardwick. She lives in New York City; Florida is her first novel.
Author biography courtesy of TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press.
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In the fall of 2004, Christine Schutt took time out to answer some of our questions about her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Robert Lowell, Life Studies. The language, the sensibility, the subject matter. Lowell mixes colloquial and lyrical language in a most effective way. His poems in this book and subsequent collections have a strong narrative component and wonderful use of dialogue.
What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?
My favorite novels tend to be short and finely wrought. They are inward books.
William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, Cormac McCarthy's Child of God, Elizabeth Hardwick's Sleepless Nights, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. My other favorite books are all by poets: Robert Lowell's Day by Day and Life Studies and History. Poets are the writers I turn to when I feel especially language poor. Emily Dickinson's poems, Elizabeth Bishop's poems. A slew of other poets, quick and dead.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I don't listen to music when I am writing. Otherwise, Mississippi John Hurt and anything T. Bone Burnett puts together.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
I do have a book club, and our next book is I. B. Singer's Enemies: A Love Story. It is a short, beautifully and smartly wrought book that manages to be serious and funny and important and timeless.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
Gift certificates. I like to pick my own books and expect other readers do, too.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
Animals around me and on my lap. They have to be settled or else I cannot be.
What are you working on now?
Something long about which I run hot and cold.
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?
I am in the same place I have always been insofar as that means having to write every day knowing that nothing may come of hours of sitting in front of the screen. So much of writing involves sustaining oneself psychologically; there is and never will be enough security, praise, or product to face the next day's work with any assurance of talent. The great dead, those who came before, are so often disappointed in one's efforts.
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
I have far too many gifted friends, all of whom deserve a wider readership to wish discovery on any one.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
For any writer: write.
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