The fresh voice of a generation
Writer Alexandra Kleeman is the talk of the town this month. Her witty and weird debut novel You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine has the literary world abuzz. This unique book is supercharged with acute observations on consumerism, Reality TV, religion and even pornography, while being amusing and irreverent.
When Kleeman isn’t writing novels, her fiction and non-fiction can be found in places like The Paris Review, Tin House, n+1 and The Guardian. One more thing—not to make her totally intimidating—she is also a PhD candidate in Rhetoric at UC Berkeley and has a book of short stories, Intimations, coming out in 2016.
Here she shares how to have a perfect day in Staten Island, other artists that inspired her, and more.
Can you describe the moment you knew you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t know which moment was truly “the one”—but when I was eight we lived in a country town in Japan for a summer, and my parents only allowed me to bring along three books. There weren’t any bookstores for foreigners there, and not much to do as a kid who didn’t speak the language. I read those books so many times, over and over and then in creative ways (back to front, then alternating between chapters of different books). When I got completely fed up with trying to find new ways of reading those three books, I began making up stories in my head. I remember thinking that if I could only write books myself, I would never be in this situation again!
Is your work inspired by other arts?
I love video art and large-scale installations. There’s nothing that quickens my heart like being in a strange new space, seeing and moving and becoming aware of all the moving parts of my experience. I love Ryan Trecartin, Laure Prouvost, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Bill Viola—I have more ideas when I’m standing in front of their work than anyplace else.
Do you have any favorite literary haunts in the city or special places you go to think or get inspiration?
When I need a day to think, I take the ferry to the base of Manhattan and walk all the way up to Soho. It’s a perfect walk, half familiar landscape and half in flux. I stop by McNally Jackson to see if there are any new and amazing books to start longing after, and then I go to the cafe in the lobby of the New Museum for coffee and a cookie. For me, that cafe is a perfect place to think: all clean white walls and the continual turnover of people to watch–and none of them are there to work, which makes whatever they are doing more interesting. You see a lot of artists whose work is showing in the building, I’ve even seen Yoko Ono there.
You and your fiancé, fellow writer Alex Gilvarry, live on Staten Island, how would you spend a dream day off in your hood?
Staten Island actually has a lot of great nature—miles of coastline, and a long strip of park that runs through the middle of the entire island. On our days off we usually go on a run by the water, or a hike through the Greenbelt. Afterwards we might stop at Pastosa, a fantastic Italian grocery, to pick up fresh prosciutto and vegetables and go back home to cook them. Or, to be honest, we might just order pizza.
Is there one book that has changed your life?
I adore Joy Williams’ story collection Taking Care. I have a nice copy that I keep at home, and a travel copy that I’ve brought with me the last three summers in a row. Whenever I want to feel something I can just open it up and start reading. Evert page has something on it that touches me.