the panel was titled “rereading david foster wallace”
Went to two events at the New Yorker Festival this past weekend — the first was called “Rereading David Foster Wallace:” D.T. Max (author of the recent DFW biography, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story) moderated, and the panel included Mary Karr, Mark Costello, Dana Spiotta, and Deborah Treisman, and it was good, may have been better had I read DFW and been familiar with his body of work, but good regardless.
Of the panelists, I was only familiar with Deborah Treisman (Fiction Editor of The New Yorker) and Mary Karr (in passing, though; I know of her books; but I’ve yet to read her). Mark Costello and Dana Spiotta were both new names to me, and, amongst the four panelists, Dana Spiotta was the only one who hadn’t known DFW in-person. As far as the four panelists go, Mary Karr was blunt and almost off-putting but also funny; Mark Costello and Mary Karr rather almost seemed to butt heads from time-to-time; Dana Spiotta seemed the most withdrawn of the four; and Deborah Treisman was every bit as cool and collected and professional as I anticipated her to be. D.T. Max was a capable moderator, I thought, not necessarily brilliant but not bad either.
As can be expected, a lot of things were said, and it was a good panel, I thought, but two things in particular stuck with me.
I can’t remember the context or even the details behind this, but Mary Karr spoke more than once about how it’s important to write for the reader, that, (and I’m paraphrasing here now) at a certain point, writing does cease to be about fulfilling your own need and about thinking about your reader. It’s not about sacrificing your artistic integrity or the story you want to tell; that’s not what she meant at all; but that it is important to consider for whom you’re writing.
My favourite part, though, was a response Deborah Treisman gave to an audience question regarding DFW’s suicide, and, when I got home after the event on Saturday, I’d wished I’d written down what she said, but, luckily, the little preview for the video of the event featured the question (which is good because the paraphrase I wrote up on this post as a draft was terrible), so I transcribed it:
I think when anyone writes about it, anyone who’s close to someone who kills themselves writes about it relatively soon after, there’s going to be a lot of anger, and it’s going to be quite unprocessed, and that anger is going to come through even in the most compassionate piece. The way I thought about it — what was helpful for me at the time when it happened was actually talking to another writer who’s suffered his whole life with depression. […] This other writer said, “It’s not that you wake up one day and you say, I’m going to kill myself today; it’s that you wake up every single day saying, How can I not?“ Just switching that around made it clear enough to me anyway that this was not an act of career advancement. This was not about getting more fans and creating a legend. This was about mental illness.
I just love that, both what she says about anger and what the “other writer” said to her because they’re both very true.
I went to the Salman Rushdie event on Sunday, too, which was great; after several attempts to see Salman Rushdie, I finally succeeded! But more on that later!
(I like these author events because I think it’s easy to forget that there are real live people who write these books we read, and, most times, the author is so different from who we might imagine. And, when it comes to authors talking about another author, I think there’s something very special about that — or maybe it’s just me and my thing about community.)