Author John D'Agata Talks Nuclear Waste, Wrestling, and David Foster Wallace
loves dogs, but he doesn't own one of his own. He also loves reading art magazines because he enjoys the way the critics write. These are two interesting facts Cultist learned while corresponding with the poet and essayist who was credited by Annie Dillard as "redefining the modern American essay."
To prep us for his South Florida visit tomorrow night, D'Agata told us how being protective about his mom led to a book and about his relationship with David Foster Wallace.
New Times: When did you first feel like a writer?
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John D'Agata: I suppose the romantic and modest thing to say would be that it was when
my first book came out. But in reality, I think it was in high school
after writing my first article for the school paper. My assignment was
to cover a wrestling meet. And while I knew nothing about wrestling, my
roommate had just joined the team so I figured I could just follow his
matches and patch together an article about the entire meet. I don't
think the editor knew much about wrestling either, because she published
the thing exactly as I submitted it, despite the fact that it really
was about no one else but my roomie. He quit the team after that first
term, but I've been trying to write ever since.
What inspired your last book?
last book, About a Mountain, was inspired by my mom. Somewhat out of
the blue, she decided to move from our home in New Hampshire to Las
Vegas. While helping her settle in, I started hearing about the Yucca
Mountain Project just north of the city. Yucca was a place where the
federal government was planning on storing about 80,000 tons of spent
nuclear waste. The project involved shipping all this waste across the
United States from about a hundred different nuclear power plants from
around the country, having it converge in Las Vegas, and then
transporting it by train from there to Yucca Mountain. Every day, for
about 40 years, tons and tons of waste would be traveling within
spit-shot of my mom's home. So that's what got me interested in Yucca:
something entirely selfish. Trying to protect my mom.
When you're writing, who are you writing to? Who's your audience?
do imagine specific individuals, but they're all dead now. One of them
is a former college teacher -- the first person in school who took me
seriously as a writer. Another is a critic named Guy Davenport, who was
the first writer I never knew to send me a letter of encouragement. And
the last is the novelist David Foster Wallace, whom I only met about a
month before he died, but for years beforehand we exchanged letters
about what we were working on, reading, and dogs.
Friday, University of Wynwood will host D'Agata at Locust Projects (155 NE
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