Friday, October 15, 2010


Jen and I went to Town Hall Seattle to hear one of our favorite contemporary writers, Michael Cunningham, read from his new book, By Nightfall. The event was surprisingly sparsely attended (for someone whose won a fucking Pulitzer Prize for gawd’s sake) and the ratio of pudgy gray-haired folks to (what I expected more of his fan base to be) hot young gay dudes was infinity (my math skills tell me that since there were none of the latter and many of the former, this would be the result.)

Nevertheless, it was a lovely and moving evening, and Mr. Cunningham was as charming in person as he is in prose: thoughtful, witty, self-deprecating, and disarmingly honest, just like some of the characters in his books—although he did claim, in the question-and-answer period, that he doesn’t write autobiographically, although he draws from his own experience.

I asked him whether he intentionally sets out to develop the metaphorical symbols that appear in his books; in By Nightfall, for instance, the main character, Peter, a gallery owner, is exhibiting some works that feature a waxed covering over what the artist claims are beautiful paintings underneath; at one point, one of the coverings is accidentally ripped and Peter gets to see what’s hidden; it turns out to be sophomoric and poorly-rendered; this seems to illustrate (at least it did for me) at least one of the themes the novel explores regarding our lives and the unseen parts of them; Cunningham said that he never decides beforehand what he’s going to write; he just sits down during the first draft and essentially lets the novel speak for itself; it’s not until the “crucial second draft,” he said, that he goes through and begins to understand what he’s got and if it’s worth keeping.

He said he throws out at least a novel’s worth of work for every novel he writes. Huh; only took me 337 words to get down to this.


Post a Comment

<< Home