The Living Muse
Andre Dubus III is an American writer of fiction and memoir. His 1999 novel House of Sand and Fog lounged for 20 weeks on The New York Times’s Bestseller List in 2000 and 2001 and became a feature film in 2003. His 2008, based-on-real-events novel The Garden of Last Days explores the final days of one of the 9/11 terrorists, who chose to spend them indulging in the sins of the West. His 2012 memoir Townie is a profound meditation on the nature of violence. Born in 1959, Dubus obtained his bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Texas. Before succeeding as a writer, he worked odd jobs as a carpenter, bounty hunter, and bartender.
Question: What drives your creativity?
Andre Dubus III: My beautiful wife of 20 years. Yeah, she is. She's actually a dancer, a modern dancer, and yeah actually my wife Fontaine is my first reader, because she's brutal. She's brutal. If something doesn't work, she'll say, "This is really not working," and she won't say it nicely. Which I respect. She's a very powerful woman, she's a choreographer and a dancer and she has a dance company; she also paints and sculpts and she writes pretty good stuff herself. You know, it's interesting, you know, we're blessed with three kids but when we come back to just being a couple we realize consistently that one of our main, probably our main bond, is that we both have this daily desire to try to make something, to try to create something, and even though we're in different forms and we do it with different materials, it's a really satisfying marriage in that respect. I don't have to explain and she doesn’t have to explain to me, you know, things about the, you know, the soul about it. She says something interesting, you know. Writers are weird people, you know. Where if I have a bad writing day or a bad writing month where it's just coming in a difficult, slow way, I'll assume that I'm not a writer and I never was and anything I ever wrote was a lie and it's all crap. And she said, "You know, you writers are weird, you'll have a bad stretch and you'll think you're not writers. I'll just have a bad day at choreography and think I'll do better tomorrow." She says, "I don't know why you writers all of a sudden think you're not writers." And I don't know what that is. That's a very interesting, strange, I don't know, dichotomy.
Question: Do writers have an uneven amount of self-loathing?
Andre Dubus III: You know that's really a good question. Do writers have an uneven amount of self loathing? I know there's a lot of self loathing involved. I'll tell you, man, you know, something I've written could get 25 really nice reviews and one bad one and I'll only believe the bad one. As a matter of fact, it's the only one I'll read. Because that's the only one I really believe. And you know, it might have to do with-- you know what it might have to do with. I used to not like the word "author," I thought I sounded a little bourgeois and elitist, I prefer the word writer, which sounds like the rest of us, carpenter, plumber, writer, just a worker with words. But then I looked up the word author and now I like it. Because author actually means the originator or beginner of something. And I think that when, well, I know that when you originate or begin something, and we're all authors actually in a lot of ways in our daily lives, but when you originate or begin something, you're kind of stepping out on thin ice and you're out on that, little, that-- you're walking out on air and it makes you insecure. It makes you feel vulnerable, it makes you feel naked. Here's one thing I found myself telling my writing students: If you walk around throughout the day feeling vulnerable, naked, slightly nasty, stupid and wrong, you're probably writing pretty well. You're probably going someplace deep. If you're walking around feeling kind of sexy and talented and special, you're probably not going deep enough at all.
Recorded on: 6/11/08
Although writer Andre Dubus describes his wife as his inspiration and harshest reader, his greatest critic is himself.
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Photo credit: Jie Zhao / Getty contributor
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