60 Seconds with Steven Sherrill
Steven Sherrill is an associate professor of English and Integrative Arts at Penn State Altoona. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Poetry and received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Fiction in 2002. His poems have appeared in numerous publications including The Best American Poetry, The Kenyon Review, River Styx, and the Georgia Review.
His first novel, The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, has been translated into 9 languages. His second novel, Visits From the Drowned Girl, (2004), was nominated by Random House for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. The Locktender’s House, novel three, was published in Spring 2008. His new book of poems, Ersatz Anatomy, is out now. Steven lives in Pennsylvania.
Which was your favourite childhood book?
Favorite is hard to pin down, but I know my brain was shaped by Dr. Seuss, by nursery rhymes, and by the horrific Gustav Dore images in the Bible for Children books my mother insisted I read.
Where do you write?
Currently in the (finished) attic studio in my house. The window overlooks the town, and Locke Mountain rises in the distance. That said, I take pride in not needing a specific “place” to work. Only silence.
Which was the book that changed your life?
Two, actually. No, three. First, the literary parody of a porn novel, Candy, co-written by Terry Southern and someone I can’t recall just now. I distinctly remember how dangerous it felt simply holding the book (under my 8th grade school desk).
Next was Another Roadside Attraction, by Tom Robbins (which lead me to his others, and to Vonnegut). Then came Ted Hughes’ Crow. Almost every poem in the book takes (present tense) my breath away.
What objects are on your desk, and why?
Well, we’re moving and I’m about to purge everything on the desk and start fresh! But, I tend to keep things that are significant to the book I’m working on at the time. For the Minotaur, I kept a copy (stolen from a book) of this beautiful (and poignant) George Frederick Watts painting of the minotaur taped to my wall. I also had the last few paragraphs of Shipping News, by Annie Proulx taped beside it. For The Locktender’s House, I had a small piece of stone that I took from an abandoned
lock not far from home. I swear I could hear rushing water every time I pressed it to my ear.
Which book should every child read?
Any book their parents (or anyone else, for that matter) tells them not to read.
Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t?
Joyce and Faulkner (you pick the books).
What will be written on your gravestone?
No gravestone for me. No place to visit, or to contain me. But if a phrase had to accompany my scattering energy I suppose I’d be happy with either “Wow!” Or “What the fuck?”
Do men and women write differently?
My ex-wife is a poet. My current (and right) wife is a poet. But I think writers write differently than other writers. The distinctions I seem to notice, between the genders, are in content rather than process.
What are you working on at the moment?
Final revisions of a young adult novel, called Strum Hollow. I’m also beginning to put together a collection of short stories (new and old). I want to finish that before another novel. Truthfully, though, I’m spending most of my time playing ukulele and banjo (both instruments from and for the fringe), obsessing over Shape Note and Sea Chantey singing, and trying to teach myself Tuvan Throat-singing.
What art forms do you actively avoid?
I have difficult time engaging (or being engaged by) most dance. Particularly ballet. Opera too. And I’ve tried. Sincerely.
I suppose I have a pretty solid low-brow constitution. Wagner is liable to put me to sleep, but I’d drive a hundred miles for a good motorcycle race.