Author John D'Agata Talks Nuclear Waste, Wrestling, and David Foster Wallace


John D'Agata
ohn D'Agata 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?

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

38th St., Miami) from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Call 305-576-8570 or visit

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Liz Tracy has written for publications such as the New York Times, the Atlantic, Refinery29, W, Glamour, and, of course, Miami New Times. She was New Times Broward-Palm Beach's music editor for three years. Now she plays one mean monster with her 2-year-old son and obsessively watches British mysteries.
Contact: Liz Tracy