Saturday, October 6, 2007

Edmund White

Earlier this year Mark Doten interviewed Edmund White about his book, My Lives: An Autobiography.

Here is Doten's preface and their first exchange:

The name Edmund White conjures up a number of images. There’s the Midwestern boy fumbling his way to a gay identity (A Boy’s Own Story); the ultra-libidinous, ultra-liberated gay cruiser (The Beautiful Room Is Empty, The Joy of Gay Sex); the erudite man of letters, as comfortable in Europe as America (Jean Genet; Fanny: A Fiction); and also the clear-eyed and stricken chronicler of the devastation of the AIDS crisis (The Farewell Symphony; The Married Man). His latest book, My Lives: An Autobiography, investigates all of these identities, casting new light on his seventeen previous books and also marking a vital new turn in his career. The power of My Lives is derived in great part from its unusual structure: ten chapters that cut crosswise through his life by subject, including “My Shrinks,” “My Father,” “My Genet,” “My Hustlers,” and “My Master.” The last of these, which details his very, very sexy and very, very graphic love affair with a much younger man identified as “T.,” prompted him to write, “I can imagine some of my friends reading this and muttering, ‘T M I -- Too Much Information,’ or ‘Are we to be spared nothing?’”

Well, no. We’re not. And it’s White’s refusal to spare himself and us that makes this book so remarkable, offering a meditation by turns witty and elegiac on White’s numerous lives -- lives charged with sex, loss, and friendship.

I sat down with White in his Chelsea apartment to talk about the book. My laptop recording device immediately went on the fritz, but, fortunately for posterity, White was kind enough to dig out his own mini-cassette recorder and some spare batteries, and so we began.

Why arrange My Lives by subject rather than chronologically?

I guess because I had written about that in my fictional trilogy, plus The Married Man, which was also autobiographical, plus having two books written about me, plus having written numerous autobiographical short stories, I felt like I had kind of worked this vein. And I was trying to come up with a different approach that would come up with new material for me. I felt if I delved into the stream of my life by topic rather than chronologically, that a couple things would happen. One would be that I would have to group everything together and finally have a summary, a conclusion about it. And secondly, I would probably come up with thoughts I’d never had before. For instance, in the first chapter, “My Shrinks,” I don’t think there’s anywhere in all of my writing where I talk about what psychoanalysis meant to me. And here there’s about a two-page summary where I weigh the pros and cons of having been on the couch for 25 years.

Read the full interview at Bookslut.

The Page 99 Test: Hotel de Dream.

--Marshal Zeringue