Welcoming a Famous Builder: Interview with Paul Lisicky

Paul Lisicky, author of Lawnboy and Famous Builder

Paul Lisicky, author of Lawnboy and Famous Builder

We are very lucky to have Paul Lisicky, author of Lawnboy and Famous Builder, with us this fall semester. You can find him in our often-incongruously-designed classrooms, teaching Contemporary Fiction and Fiction Workshop. He’s a blogger with a well-appointed sense of presentation, and his music hit list ranges from Blige to Bjork. Let’s hear more about our newest member of the RN MFA family:

So, Professor Lisicky? Or can we call you Paul? You’re originally from Cherry Hill, NJ, have a soft spot in your heart for Texas, and now live in New York. Can you tell us how has your writing been influenced by the changing scenes and climate outside your windows?

I prefer Paul. Thanks for asking. You’re right about changing scenes. Not long ago I counted fifteen different houses and apartments in fifteen years. But many of those locales–Houston, Ithaca, North Carolina, Salt Lake City, Iowa City, Palo Alto–haven’t made their way into my work. I’m still stirred by the landscapes that stirred me as a child: the wetlands of the Jersey shore, the Everglades of South Florida: places that are half land, half water, always changing. I’ve spent most of my life trying to work with those early sense impressions, even when I’m not writing directly about childhood. 

Each teacher has a distinctive style, a mode, downright swagger at times. How do you describe your ideal fiction workshop? What’s your style?

No swagger from me. Respect, encouragement, safety, hard work–I do my best to encourage those values in the classroom. I like Richard Powers’ notion of a “thriving ecosystem” vs. a “monoculture.” In other words, a place where a variety of styles and forms can flourish. We learn to read closely. We learn to listen to what’s on the page and to each other. We learn how to be appreciators of great work. We cheer on what’s distinctive and precise.

Speaking of style, I just heard from a friend who attended, that you taught at the Port Townsend Writers Conference this July. My friend, who is now deeply regretful, did not attend your class, “Carhartt or Chanel?: Musing on Prose Styles”. Can you tell us, in your opinion, what hot new fiction writer has that supple lambskin Gucci handbag prose?

 In that particular class we talked about the difference between a prose style distinguished by the writer’s personality vs. a prose that’s transparent. We found out soon enough that it was impossible to make clear-cut distinctions among the writers on the handout. The most vivid prose often had its feet in both camps at once, often within the same paragraph. A heightened, lyrical sentence was often played up against the plain and conversational. We had incredible fun and learned a lot. As for that supple lambskin Gucci handbag writer? I’m not sure I can answer that, but here’s the briefest list of writers who have been important to me: Flannery O’Connor, Joy Williams, Junot Diaz, Mary Gaitskill, Denis Johnson. And the list goes on and on.

Now I know you’re a busy “Big Shiny Man”, but can you tell us what you have cooking in that sleek Demeyere pot of yours? Can we circle a date on our calendars for your next book release, or special appearance?

I’m working on a collection of short prose pieces I’m calling UNBUILT PROJECTS, but I’m also working on a long novel that might just morph into a memoir. We shall see. This fall I have stories coming out in StoryQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, The Seattle Review, Brevity, and Knockout. As for readings, I have some out of state travels–Cleveland, San Diego, Baltimore–but locally I’ll be reading at the Ocean City Arts Center on September 25, at NYU on October 30, and at Drew University in Madison on November 5. I’ll, of course, be reading at the Writers at Rutgers series in the spring, but I hope you can come out to one of these readings, too. It would be great to see you.

Thank you Paul!  We all look forward to attending your workshops and readings this fall.  P.S., The Rutgers Newark MFA community sends you a warm welcome for what is shaping up to be an exciting year. 


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