The Beatrice Interview

Lynne Tillman

In Her Own Words

interviewed by Ron Hogan

I've always done non-fiction, since I started writing seriously in the late '70s. I don't think of it as alternating; these things just went on together. I was primarily engaged in writing fiction, and in some ways I still am, but I have been doing an awful lot of non-fiction recently. I'm pretty resolutely general in my interests, and I'm happy to be able to write about many different kinds of things.

Sometimes I'm fortunate enough to have an editor call me and say, "Would you like to write about X?" They'll know that I have an interest and involvement in film, or they're familiar with the writing I do. I don't write that often for magazines, but there are some, like Art in America or the Voice Literary Supplement, that I write for more than others, and I can call the editors there and ask, "Can I write about X?" And sometimes it comes about through being asked to present papers at conferences.

I would say I'm primarily a fiction writer, although I guess that's not strictly true based on my output. My most recent book before The Broad Picture was The Velvet Years: Warhol's Factory 1965- 67, for which I wrote accompanying text to Stephen Shore's photographs. And I'm working on a book now about the history of Books and Company, a tremendous New York bookstore that closed in 1996.

My latest novel, No Lease on Life, is 24 hours in the life of Elizabeth, who lives in the East Village. She starts out in the middle of the night, unable to sleep because the kids on the street are yelling and breaking bottles. So for half the book, she's looking out her window, thinking and fantasizing. And then during the day, she goes out into the city. It's a very intense, detailed description of an urban day. It's also filled with jokes that punctuate the text every five pages or so. They aren't told by anyone; they're just part of the fabric of the city.

Different forms allow you to do different things. Sometimes I try to confound the two forms. I have a character, Madame Realism, and I've written several essays, some of which appear in The Broad Picture, in which she goes to art shows, so that I'm using a fictive voice to write art reviews. It's one way of dealing with the problem of Truth, which many of the essays deal with in one way or another...

I do really see all kinds of cultural production as being within a context... How we take things into our own lives is always fascinating to me. When you love something, like a book or a movie, it's probably in part because that object is related to something deeply personal to you not only as part of an aesthetic, but in a much broader psychological and sociological mix.

BEATRICE Suggested further reading
Deborah Eisenberg | Jay McInerney

All materials copyright © 1998 Ron Hogan