How Being the Opposite of an Art Monster Has Helped Lynn Steger Strong’s Work
From the Thresholds Podcast, Hosted by Jordan Kisner
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the new essay collection, Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
On today’s episode, Jordan talks to Lynn Steger Strong about her book Want, falling in love, being a writer who doesn’t turn away from attachments and relationships, and how that impacts her work.
From the interview:
Lynn Steger Strong: I was watching this video a couple of days ago of Jenny Offill talking about the art monster idea. An art monster is generally male; it’s Nabokov, and Vera licking his envelopes, right? It’s the individual so deeply devoted to their work that in the footnotes—the example that Offill gave is that in the footnotes, you would read these biographies of these great men, and then you’d get a footnote that said, “And this wife, who was the mother of Child Six and Seven, was also a scientist.” And then you’d move on with the biography of this great man.
But the women get subsumed inside of life, and then they can’t make art anymore. And women get subsumed by attachments and they can’t make art anymore. And so to be an art monster is to live free of all of those attachments. I have no doubt that’s true for some people, but for me—and I’m not sure I would deign to say what I make is art—but I think for me, what I make has only ever gotten better as I’ve gotten more attachments. I love Jenny Offill and I love the art monster idea, but I also think I had such an opposite experience in terms of, stability has always served my art more than it’s hurt it. I don’t think I would have had the language for it then, and I thought then that, you know, I’m a writer so I’m going to fuck around in Asia for a year, and I’m a writer so I’m never going to have a job, and all of these things.
But actually I’m a writer and it’s my job. So I have to get up and work every day. And the less stable I am, the less productive I am. And the less steady I am, the less productive and I am. And the sadder I am, the less productive I am. And I think loving people—again, my friend says I’m getting very tender in quarantine, which I think might be true—but loving people has steadied me. And I think having commitments and connections and investments, all of that has made me a better writer. And I think that’s the opposite of what I thought.
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Lynn Steger Strong’s most recent novel, Want, was one of Time Magazine’s 100 Best Books of 2020. Her first novel, Hold Still, was released by Liveright/WW Norton in 2016. Her nonfiction has been published by Guernica, Los Angeles Review of Books, Elle.com, Catapult, Lit Hub, and others. She teaches both fiction and non-fiction writing at Columbia University, Fairfield University, and the Pratt Institute.