“I’m Gonna Die if I Have to Write Another One of These.” Why Jami Attenberg Switched to Memoir
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
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On taking a break from fiction:
MK: Jami, you once said you’d never write a memoir. What changed?
JA: I really didn’t want to write a memoir ever, because it sounded like it was a terrible thing to go through in terms of publishing it more than anything else. It’s already really hard to publish things when you write a novel. I’d written a lot of personal essays in my life and that felt like enough in terms of telling my personal story. And then what happened was I wrote a bunch of novels and needed to take a break from the form. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, I definitely had the feeling like I’m gonna die if I have to write another one of these. One every two years for 14 years is a lot. So I was interested in trying out new forms and stretching myself in that way.
I also had some stories that I wanted to tell that are in the book that I don’t think a magazine would publish. One story in particular didn’t seem to fit into any conventional box, and often when you’re writing for magazines or newspapers, they have a very specific word count or section. I don’t think it would necessarily fit into that. So I wanted to write a book so those kinds of stories could be told. And then also the other thing is that I just turned 50, and I felt like I’d lived enough life that I could look back with wisdom and perspective.
On leaving New York (and becoming nicer):
JA: No one is more surprised than I am that I am nicer now. Not that I was mean before, but I was very protective of my little box and making my work. It might be because I left New York; it coincided with that a little bit because when you’re there, you’re protective of your space and you go home and you just want to be in that little world. Leaving it gave more of an openness and expansiveness in general in my life. I don’t know, I can’t really explain it. I went and had therapy.
Jami Attenberg is the New York Times bestselling author of seven books of fiction, including The Middlesteins and All This Could Be Yours. She has contributed essays to the New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Sunday Times, and the Guardian, among other publications. She lives in New Orleans. Her new book is called I Came All This Way To Meet You.