|Photo by Keith Rawson|
In 1996, I read an interview with Daniel Woodrell in Your Flesh
magazine. When asked how he felt about his lack of mainstream acceptance, Woodrell - who was already regarded as one of the best contemporary novelists by the few who had read him - compared it to a tent, and said that he didn’t belong in the tent and preferred to stay outside.
His comment had a profound effect on me. I had been in the U.S. for less than a year, and my novel The Book of Man
had gotten some traction, and so the great and the good of mainstream publishing were sniffing around me, trying to figure if I could be a lucrative commodity. I was in negotiation with one agent who was telling me I should write novels that were less dark, not morally-ambivalent, longer, more descriptive, less violent, and about middle-class white people.
Woodrell’s remark perfectly articulated my own feeling, in a way that I had not been able to. Most of the outside-the-mainstream artists I knew only identified as such because they were not invited to the white man’s table, and they would join it as soon as they were allowed to. I had never wanted a seat at that table.
I read the interview with Woodrell on a Saturday afternoon. On the Monday morning, I called the agent and ended our association. And I went on writing what demanded to be written. I am grateful that I did.
Fifteen years later, Woodrell is finally getting some attention, because of the film of his novel Winter’s Bone
. (Read my review of the book here
.) Little, Brown will soon reissue all of his novels. His new book, a great collection of stories called The Outlaw Album
, has just been published, and he was at The Poisoned Pen
last night to discuss it.
I asked him about the 1996 interview, and it turned out that the journalist who did it was my friend Patrick Millikin, who was the moderator of last night’s discussion with Woodrell. I asked Woodrell if his feelings about the “tent” had changed since then, now that he’s invited in, and I was happy when he said they had not. He allowed that he might enter the tent sometimes, especially if they had good liquor, but that he had no inclination to stay there and that he believed that no artist should want to. I would say that this is why Woodrell’s books have made some of us feel less alone.