Isaac Fitzgerald on Telling His Story Straight Up
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
Isaac Fitzgerald is the guest. He is the author of the memoir-in-essays Dirtbag, Massachusetts: A Confessional, available from Bloomsbury.
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From the episode:
Brad Listi: You mentioned earlier that part of your reluctance to write about your childhood was the sense that it had all been done and said before. In literary culture, there is some public resistance of personal narrative, whether it comes in the form of memoir or personal essay or autofiction, that it’s somehow less than or overdone. Yet here you are with this collection of personal essays that functions like a memoir and bills itself on the cover as a confessional. Where do you land on the value of telling one’s story straight up?
Isaac Fitzgerald: There’s no way in hell I can have any other answer than I truly believe in it. I’ve always loved nonfiction. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved reading from a very early age—it’s a gift that my parents give me. One of my earliest very fundamental reading memories is I was living in this small town and this man named Arthur Perkins, who was an ex-reverend, gave me a box of Stephen King novels. And truly, Arthur seemed like he was out of a Stephen King novel. We weren’t in Maine, we were in Massachusetts, but close enough. I just remember ripping through this fiction and absolutely loving it.
Like anyone, I have such a love for fiction. I love how stories can help a person make sense of their own life. It’s something I’ve been doing for a very, very long time. I am a huge fan of nonfiction narratives. The books that I’ve been drawn to from such an early age were books that were nonfiction. They either reflected my experience—because how thrilling to see your own life there on the page—or were experiences that I knew nothing about—because how thrilling to get to see the world through the eyes of somebody that you maybe don’t have anything in common with. And as you read these stories, you find those threads that bring us together. So memoir, nonfiction, it’s my favorite thing.
That’s the grandiose artistic answer. The other answer is I’ve got a very vivid imagination. I loved playing make-believe as a kid. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to knock myself on that front. But the idea of writing fiction, for me, seems almost like a different art form, even though it is all still writing. Whereas for so long, be it through journaling or personal essays, what I’ve been writing are my own experiences. That’s how I know how to make sense of the world. So, I love nonfiction, but it’s also one of the only forms of writing that I feel like I have really figured out. That’s important to me, too.
Isaac Fitzgerald appears frequently on The Today Show and is the author of the bestselling children’s book How to Be a Pirate as well as the co-author of Pen & Ink and Knives & Ink (winner of an IACP Award). His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, the Best American Nonrequired Reading, and numerous other publications. He lives in Brooklyn.