Last night, Mark Z. Danielewski made an appearance at the Columbia School of International Policy & Affairs. The event was open to the public, though it wasn’t really advertised, and it was announced less than 48 hours in advance. The Literary Team only caught wind of us when Mark’s publisher Pantheon announced it on their Facebook page.

Mark Z. Danielewski. b. 1966

For the uninitiated, Mark Z. Danielewski is the author of the behemoth ur-text HOUSE OF LEAVES, one of our Must Reads and Top Ten Scariest Books of all-time. That text alone places him among the greatest living American authors, but it’s really the Joycean masterpiece ONLY REVOLUTIONS that firmly established this author as one of our very favorites. For years now, Danielewski’s lived in Los Angeles, effectively steering clear of the New York literary society (though he’s a native New Yorker). So last night marked something of a golden opportunity to see and hear a genius at the height of his powers, talk about his previous books, his influences, and his upcoming 27 volume novel THE FAMILIAR, scheduled to be published by Pantheon in 2014, and for which Danielewski received a reported seven-figure deal.

It’s a funny thing, seeing one of your favorite writers in person, not knowing whether they’re tall or short, funny or strange, loud or quiet, or anything, really, except for the pieces of themselves that make it into the text. So, last night, a few of us went to hear Danielewski as he talked about the interplay of technology, literature, and religion. The conversation lasted an entire 90 minutes, and everyone in the room was rapt, engrossed, and thoroughly entertained by Danielewski. He’s a great storyteller! He’s funny! He’s personable and generous. He spoke at great length about the process of designing HOUSE OF LEAVES, writing it, how “lucky” he felt upon its reception. He then spoke about THE FIFTY-YEAR SWORD, an art-house novel published in Holland (soon to be published in the U.S.) Then he talked about ONLY REVOLUTIONS, and it seemed, as he spoke about Sam and Hailey, the novel’s two star-crossed sixteen-year-old protagonists, that this was the book for which he had the most affection.

It would be impossible to summarize the entire 90 minutes, so here are some bullet points of the highlights, the memorables, and the errata:

  • he wore gold and green shoelaces as per the two covers of ONLY REVOLUTIONS
  • plans on having a team of writers and artists help him collaborate on THE FAMILIAR (like a TV show, he said)
  • THE FAMILIAR is mostly about a twelve-year old girl and her cat (he said this in all seriousness)
  • was wearing a cat t-shirt (this is evidently a “thing”)
  • cited the artist Walton Ford as one of his influences
  • mentioned how much he loved the writing of Kerouac as a young man, and how Kerouac’s work didn’t seem “the same” to him as a 46-year-old
  • has an MFA from USC in Cinematic Arts (studied literature at Yale as undergrad)
  • mentioned several philosophers including Heidegger and Hegel
  • described writing a novel as “climbing Mount Everest without oxygen”
  • “you’re not carving stone, you’re carving water”
  • wondered whether he’d live to see THE FAMILIARS published (but didn’t cite any reason why he shouldn’t / wouldn’t)
  • when compared to writer Tom McCarthy (a favorite of the Literary Man), Danielewski demured, insisted that there was no singular group of the avant-garde, rejected the notion of the avant garde because it implied a front-line, an artificial construct
  • said he wakes up at 5:30 to write for six to eight hours a day, six days a week
  • told the audience to read Anne Carson and David Foster Wallace’s THE PALE KING
  • recommends Tai-Chi for meditation

Definitely a memorable literary experience. If you haven’t already, it’s time to read ONLY REVOLUTIONS.

Submitted by S. Tremaine Nelson