You were quoted in Publishers Weekly saying the New York Review Comics imprint is seeking “stuff from everywhere. It’s not going to be just really literary comics.” I wonder if you could talk about that more – do you see an over-emphasis on a certain kind of comic in current American publishing?
Part of what I meant was that we are committed to doing a wider range of stuff than simply long-form narrative comics. Both Lucas [Adams] and I believe strongly that single-panel works, for instance, deserve the same kind of attention, and that our series wouldn’t be complete without them — without the brilliant Glen Baxter, and the absolutely inimitable Abner Dean, and so on.
Your book is a collection of interviews with Las Vegas residents, interspersed with your own reflections on the city and its history. Tell me a little about the interviewing process. Was each interview done in one session or over multiple days? Did you ask questions or just let each person monologue?
Every one of them was completed in one session, some lasting two or three hours and one lasting about six. They came to our house in all but two cases. I led them through it with very simply stated questions. Most of them were photographed on the same day they were interviewed, out on the balcony of our apartment, against a screen. I’d done this various times in the past. My first book, Curious Journey, was an oral history and I did a lot of interviewing of Irish migrants for the novel I Could Read the Sky. . . .
Much of the poetry you write is rooted in a historic moment or event—is that true for your poem “Goodnight” as well? Was there a specific avalanche or did this come from a more general look at miners and the conditions they face?
Though, as you point out, much of my poetry is “rooted in a historic moment” this poem, “Goodnight,” comes from a more general look at miners and their engagement with and knowledge of their environment. It came out of conversations I had with a colleague, Diana Di Stefano, who’s an environmental historian and happens to have written a book on historical avalanches titled Encounters in Avalanche Country. I was fascinated by the way the miners impacted their environment and the ways the result of that impact sometimes impacted them adversely. This poem is, in part, about that relationship.
Something that struck me in the first story in In the Devil’s Territory (and others in Praying Drunk) was how immediately unlikeable the protagonist is, yet also how his voice compels us to continue reading, even as we squirm at how he phrases things, what he objects to, or how he views his family. Is the concept of needing a likeable protagonist a myth?
I don’t ever think about likeability or unlikeability. I think about want, need, desire, grievance, and preoccupation. Sometimes I think that one result is that the stories can become something of a Rorschach inkblot test – different readers respond differently to different narrators, and it might say as much about the reader as it does about the narrator. . . .
Lisa rose bradford
You have been working with Gelman’s poetry for several years. In what ways has translating so much of his work contributed to your development as a translator?
I find his work contagious. When I first read Carta abierta, I thought I was exploring ways to write about grief but ended up so moved by the text that I decided to translate it. The book is loaded with euphony and torture, and I realized I needed to recreate that clash of elements, which took a lot of experimenting and polishing. Another thing that struck me about this book was his neologisms: difficult to render, but a lot of fun in the search for analogous roots, prefixes, suffixes, or compounds. . . .