Paul West

Paul West, swimming in the universe.

Paul West, swimming in the universe.

Master stylist and bona fide genius. I first made Paul’s acquaintance at Penn State in 1985. I’m honored to have had Paul as a mentor.  His must-reads include

  • Tenement of Clay – Narrated in large part by the chatty midget wrestler Pee Wee Lazarus, this tale of down-and-outs shows us what Bukowski might have achieved had he aspired to the sublime.
  • The Very Rich Hours of Count von Stauffenberg – Narrated by the would-be Hitler assassin himself, Stauff bravely continues even after being executed by firing squad in the courtyard of the Bendlerblock.
  • The Place in Flowers Where Pollen Rests – The title is the name of the blind, Hopi Kachina doll carver whose life, work, and spirit, however haphazardly, inspire his “nephew”-son, Oswald Beautiful Badger Going Over the Hill, a brutalized veteran not only of Vietnam but of the worst of the porn industry, to take his proper place in the universe.
  • Bela Lugosi’s White Christmans – The last in West’s early trilogy tracking the misadventures of Alley Jaggers; perhaps the most charming novel ever written about language, murder, necrophilia, model airplanes, cemetery defilement, and plastering.

This interview with Paul West appeared in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, published by Dalkie Archive Press.

You can listen to this audio interview with Paul West courtesy of Ohio University’s Wired for Books site.

Read my essay, “The Paul West Experience: Liberating the Microcosms.”

Paul West’s Technical Advice for Fiction Writers
I first had the great fortune of encountering this member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, winner of the Prix Médicis and the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction, Literary Lion of the New York Public Library system, and so on in an advanced undergraduate fiction writing course, one of the last undergraduate courses he taught, at Penn State in 1985. I later had the pleasure and honor of working with him at the graduate level, also at Penn State. The memory Paul telling an undergraduate me, as if astonished, “You can write!” still has the power to revive my spirit and resolve, even in an age when, as Paul might say, the latest thriller is dissected on NPR as high art, or, worse, when we should be happy if the number of educated readers in the world is fifteen thousand because soon it will be ten.

While Paul’s teaching methods veered away from the lecture and toward the conversation, perhaps sensing there’s more to be learned in thoughtful digressions than in a prepared agenda, he occasionally offered direct advice on matters of craft. In 1985, he handed out a a two-page numbered list with the simple heading “Fiction” that presented what I would call “tips and tricks” for aspiring writers. Several years later, he handed out this same document to members of his graduate fiction writing seminar (you can read about us in his memoir, Master Class), the list having grown to 51 items.