Interview with Marie de Hennezel
11 April 2011
Art and Soul
20 April 2011

Joe Ashby Porter

On 4 May at 19h30, the Library will have the pleasure of hosting Joe Ashby Porter for a presentation called The Two Mr. Porters: The Scholar and the Scribbler.

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Meet Joe Ashby Porter, the author of the novels Eelgrass, Resident Aliens, and The Near Future, and the collections The Kentucky Stories, Lithuania, Touch Wood, and All Aboard.

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Meet Dr. Joseph Porter, professor of English and Theater Studies at Duke University, the author of eight books on Shakespeare and editor or co-editor of nine others. He studied at Harvard, Oxford and UC Berkeley.

In this interview, we talk about Paris, writing, and teaching.

Joe, what first brought you to Paris?

It was the pull of its literary and artistic culture, which I’d felt all my
life, and which I seem to have inherited from my mother who, I learned years
after her death, studied French as a mountain girl in Hazard, Kentucky.  It was the thrilling glamour of the city as presented in Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood. It was my French partner Yves, who had lived here for some months before he and I met, and who brought me here for my first brief visit.  In two or three days we visited the Louvre and Beaubourg, and Yves’s old haunts, and I made a pilgrimage to the graves of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

Perhaps I should say that here we’re mainly talking about Joe.  Joseph was
always more concerned with England, specifically Shakespeare’s England.

What keeps you coming back?

During my first extended stay, when Yves and I lived rue Gît-le-Coeur, I
discovered that writing fiction came relatively easy here for me, and felt
natural and right, surely because here it simply goes without saying that
artistic creation has value. Of course I come back for the beauty of the city,
and for the cuisine and the general savoir vivre, but also for the superadded
value of the sustenance the city’s culture gives my fiction.  One discerning
reviewer said that one of my novels is French in everything but its language.

What books are on your nightstand?

It’s a figurative nightstand, because I never actually read in bed.  So,
thanks mainly to Joseph, it’s mainly Shakespeare on that table, for rereading
and re-rereading, and then also, thanks to Joe, a good amount of fiction,
recently Javier Marias and Roberto Bolaño.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

I suppose this would be a sort of net cloud centering around Samuel Beckett’s
Fail better, and including Be patient, Make yourself available to promptings,
Don’t despair, Grow up, and Get over it.

What advice would you give to struggling writers?

Try your best to understand the nature of the struggle and its stakes, which can be very high indeed.  Write as if your life depended on it, and at the same time learn to relinquish control, so that the work can seem to write itself.

Do you prefer teaching literature or creative writing?

I prefer both, mostly because for me they’re complementary.  Joseph mainly
teaches lecture courses, while Joe teaches intensive seminars.  The latter take about twice as much time as the former.

What’s next?

For Joseph, it’s continuing work on the New Variorum Othello, which will be
the mother of all editions of the play.  For Joe it’s a memoir, Deep France,
and a novel, Forgotten Coast.

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