With his prolific recent works, New York Times best-selling author David Shields has called out contemporary writers to break away from our traditional ideas of “memoir” and “the novel,” said Elissa Schapell of Vanity Fair, by “obliterating any distinction between fiction and nonfiction,” to come up with something dynamically new, even harried, that can keep up with modern culture.
He is re-envisioning our rather beloved ideas of narrative and prose and asking writers and readers to evolve beyond it.
Shields will give a free reading at Trinity University on Friday, May 13, at 7 p.m. at the Chapman Auditorium, 1 Trinity Place. That Saturday, he’ll be participating in a Gemini Ink Workshop, Literary Collage: An Evolution Beyond Narrative, at 1111 Navarro Street from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration costs $95 and spaces are still available. For more information, visit geminiink.org or call 210-734-9673.
In order to offer the San Antonio literary community a glimpse into this writer’s intellectually rich and wide-ranging body of work, I conducted an interview with David Shields earlier this week comprised of five questions centered around his writing life and views on contemporary literature.
Alexandra Van De KampYour work, such as the 2010 Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, has been described as “mapping out the literary future of the next generation” and as a “literary battle cry for the creation of a new genre,” one capable of keeping pace with our quickly-evolving, reality-blurred, digital age. For someone new to your body of work, how would you explain this urgent need for writers—and readers for that matter—to leave behind their familiar ideas of what a memoir or novel can be?
David ShieldsThink about the nineteenth-century novel: how glacially paced it is, how it foregrounds background, how much it centers on family and property, and also how much it implies a God-like entity hovering over our existence. I would argue that place has nothing like the significance for us that it did for Balzac; that a Freudian or post-Freudian psychology does little to explain what we now understand about the genetically driven nature of behavior; that the shape-shifting daily lives most of us live bear no relation to the glacial pace of existence for, say, Balzac and Dickens; and that many working writers have no belief in an all-powerful deity ordering our existence, and therefore, a contemporary work of art (whether nonfiction or fiction) should reflect how we actually live our lives, and not be beholden to a nineteenth- or twentieth-century definition of literary form. And yet the huge majority of contemporary works feel to me as if they are written as a nostalgia delivery system for the reader.