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Paul Lisicky: You Can Go Home Again

Cherry Hill native and LGBTQ author Paul Lisicky spoke with blogger Robb C. Sewell in advance of his upcoming appearance at the Collingswood Book Festival.

This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of the popular Collingswood Book Festival, and festival attendees are in for quite a treat.

Slated to appear is renowned writer Paul Lisicky, author of the novels Lawnboy and The Burning House, the memoir Famous Builder and a host of short stories. Lisicky will be signing copies of his new book Unbuilt Projects from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the festival this Saturday, Oct. 6.

Beloved and respected amongst writers and throughout the LGBTQ community, Lisicky is a most prolific scribe, a man whose penchant for words and unforgettable imagery enthralls and seduces readers of all ages.

A native of Cherry Hill, Lisicky has taught writing classes at New York University, Fairfield University, Sarah Lawrence College, and Cornell University. He is currently teaching in Rutgers-Camden’s Master of Fine Arts program.

I had the good fortune of being one of Paul’s students in a fiction workshop at the Truro Center for the Arts on Cape Cod back in 2008. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the experience changed my writing forever. Paul pushed me and the other students in creative ways, challenging each of us to push ourselves in new directions. Recently we spoke about his upcoming projects, his love of the backwoods New Jersey shore and how he's always writing.

Last year, you were the “New Voices” visiting writer at Rutgers-Camden’s creative writing program. What was one highlight of that experience? And what are you up to this academic year?

I'm in my second year as the New Voices writer, so the story is still playing out. I love my students in the MFA program. Right now I'm teaching a graduate level craft class called “Innovative Forms in Prose.” This past week everyone mimicked some stories by Robert Coover and Donald Barthelme, and it was great to see what my students did once they were given permission to run wild.

What writing projects are you working on now?

I'm putting the final touches on The Narrow Door, a memoir that Graywolf Press is putting out in 2014. It's a book about friendship, particularly about my long friendship with the writer Denise Gess, who died in 2009. I'm also midway through a new book of fables, parables, myths that I'm calling Animal Care and Control. They're pretty nutty content-wise: desire run amok.

I understand you have a new book coming out in October, Unbuilt Projects. Can you give us a preview?

Unbuilt Projects is a collection of short pieces — some narrative, some not — that ask questions about God, sex, narrative, identity, childhood.

It was all written during the final years of my mom's struggle with dementia, which upended everything I thought I knew. It seems pretty heartbroken to me, but a lot of it wants to be funny too. Some of them were originally published as stories, some as essays, some as poems. I like the fact that I accidentally made something that wound up mashing genres.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I'm always writing, even if I'm walking down the street, or through the woods. Looking is a kind of writing. I do spend a lot of time reading my student's work, reading the books I've assigned to them. I have to read Sebald's The Emigrants for next Tuesday. When I'm not doing that I'm inevitably in motion. I don't do so well with sitting still. I'm always running off to some reading in the city, or visiting friends, or traveling.

You grew up in Cherry Hill. What do you miss most about South Jersey? Any kind of shout-out that you’d like to give?

Well, I'm in South Jersey all the time, even though I live in Asbury Park these days.

My favorite things about South Jersey? The wetlands between the mainland and the barrier beaches, the back bays, the pines along Route 72, on the way to Long Beach Island. I think those landscapes are just about as beautiful and strange as anything on the east coast.

Describe Paul Lisicky in ten words or less.

Trees, ocean, music, poetry, animals, birds. I could keep going.

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