Trillin, on writing and not re-reading

  • Article by: LAURIE HERTZEL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 23, 2011 - 5:31 PM

Ten questions for Calvin Trillin.

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Author Calvin Trillin sits in his Greenwich Village apartment in New York Dec. 11, 2006. Trillin remembers late late wife, Alice, in the new book "About Alice." (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Photo: RICHARD DREW, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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If you like great journalistic narratives, you probably admire the work of Calvin Trillin. If you like snappy political poetry, you probably admire Trillin. If you like moving memoir, ditto. Or humorous columns. Or light novels. Or food writing. Or just good writing in general.

Trillin has been a staff writer for the New Yorker since 1963, and for a period of about 15 years he wrote its U.S. Journal column, turning in a 3,000-word piece of reportage every three weeks from somewhere in the United States. In between, he dashed off humorous poetry and columns for the Nation.

He has published 26 books -- collections of reportage, poems and columns, as well as novels, short stories, memoirs, and a few others just because he wasn't already busy enough.

He's best known for his deep reporting, his graceful writing and his witty tone. Oh, and his love of great dim sum.

His planned visit to Minneapolis for Talk of the Stacks was canceled late last week after a health emergency, but he hopes to reschedule for next spring.

Q: Describe your writing room.

A: I would describe my office (an easy commute from my bedroom) as quite small. Someone better dressed than I am might use it for a closet.

Q: What is your writing strategy -- do you have rituals that you maintain?

A: When I'm working on a longer piece, I figure out how much I have to do each day. I call it the Committee on National Goals -- a body from the Eisenhower administration. Writers have to figure out some artificial structure, since it's obvious that God did not intend anyone to make a living as a writer.

Q: How do you get past writers' block (or the distraction of the Internet)?

A: I use the Internet a lot for research, but I don't have a serious Internet habit. My daughters sometimes call me Net Boy, but I think they mean it ironically.

Q: Do you have a favorite book from childhood?

A: I don't have a favorite book from childhood.

Q: What books do you re-read?

A: I'm always amazed at hearing that people re-read books. I have enough trouble getting through the ones I haven't read.

Q: What's on your desk?

A: A computer, family pictures, paper clips, stapler, etc. It's not neat. It's sort of like asking what's in my basement.

Q: Where are you right now? Describe what you see.

A: Right now I am, as usual, in a hotel room. What I see is the top of my head in a mirror behind the desk.

Q: What are you reading right now?

A: I just finished a marvelous book called "The Singapore Grip," by J.G. Farrell. He also wrote one of my favorite novels, "The Siege of Krishnapur."

Q: What's been the best place so far to do a reading?

A: I like to read at the 92nd Street Y in New York. The audience is very savvy, not to speak of contentious.

Q: What authors have inspired you?

A: Joseph Mitchell, a New Yorker writer who managed to get the marks of writing off the page.

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