Stuart Dybek

How did you become a writer?

Writing (and reading) gave me a special jolt even as a kid, but I got more serious about writing in high school, although my main passion then was music, especially jazz. I played saxophone but not well enough and I'd ultimately trade the horn for the instrument that in those days was called a typewriter.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

Music and for that matter the other arts are strong influences. Writing is the only art that has an abstract medium, the other arts come through the senses so I try to swim upstream against abstraction and make language as sensual as possible. the writers I'd list as influences generally are doing that very thing. I read a lot of poetry. Fiction writers who've influenced me over the years include Isaac Babel, Franz Kafka, Hemingway, Eudora Welty, James Joyce...for starters.

When and where do you write?

I rent a little studio stuffed with books, notebooks, tons of records, cds, stereo gear. I spend the day there when I am not teaching, but try as I might, I don't get down to writing until afternoon and work then until evening.

What are you working on now?

A comic--hopefully--memoir type novel set in Chicago where I grew up and a book of poems set in the Caribbean where I once lived for a couple lovely years.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

I run hot and cold and in between. I'm grateful for when it seems to come easy, but don't expect that or even trust it. I write to music and that often helps me through the slow times.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Try to practice another art as it will give you a better idea of the role of craft in writing. Learn the craft as if you are learning to make something as that's what writing is: making something, not lit interp. Read as my friend the poet Michael Ryan says "carnivorously."

Two new collections of fiction by Stuart Dybek, Ecstatic Cahoots and Paper Lantern, were published simultaneously by FSG in June 2014. His previous books of fiction are Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, The Coast of Chicago, and I Sailed with Magellan. He has also published two volumes of poetry, Brass Knuckles and Streets In Their Own Ink. His work is widely anthologized and appears in publications such as The New Yorker, Harpers, The Atlantic, Tin House, Granta, Zoetrope, Ploughshares, and Poetry. Dybek is the recipient of many literary awards including the PEN/Bernard Malamud Prize for “distinguished achievement in the short story”, a Lannan Award, the Academy Institute Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writer’s Award, the Harold Washington Literary Award, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and four O’Henry Prizes. His work has appeared in Best American Poetry and in Best American Fiction. In 2007, he was awarded both a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the Rea Award for the Short Story. He is the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Northwestern University.