Five Questions with… David Vann

David Vann, author of Aquarium and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win a copy of Aquarium and two tickets to the event! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Your debut collection, Legend of a Suicide, was somewhat based on true events in your own life. How much does your real life inspire or find its way into your fictional work?David Vann

David Vann: My first four books of fiction (Legend of a Suicide, Caribou Island, Dirt and Goat Mountain) have true family events in the background. What happens in the stories is made up but references and tries to transform the history. To give an example from Legend, my father asked me to come live with him for a year in Alaska. I said no, and soon after he killed himself. So my account in the book of a boy and his father homesteading in Alaska is fictional but also a second chance to say yes and an imagination of what that year with him would have been like. Writing is largely subconscious for me, since I have no outline or plan or any idea what the book will be about when I begin, but there’s a surprising amount of pattern and structure that happens in the subconscious, and also a drive, I think, to be made whole.

IFOA: Where did the idea for Aquarium come from?

Vann: Aquarium will be my first novel published that does not draw from my family history or have any clear parallels in my own life. It’s also the first one not to be a tragedy. I could first see scenes from Aquarium as I was finishing another novel about the Greek heroine Medea. I’ve always loved tropical fish, and I had eight fish tanks scattered throughout the house when I was 12 years old, Caitlin’s age. So I was drawn to the idea of describing fish, and Seattle as if it was underwater, and I love the public aquarium in Seattle. I went there long ago, in the early 90s, and thought their descriptions of fish at each tank were a kind of poetry indicating human behavior. I should also say that I’ve always loved female coming-of-age stories for some reason, especially Ellen Foster, Bastard Out of Carolina and Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.

Vann, AquariumIFOA: Have you ever written from the perspective of a child before and how is it different from writing from an adult perspective?

Vann: My most recent novel, Goat Mountain, is from the point of view of an 11-year-old boy, but I use a retrospective narrator, which means the story is told from when the boy is much older, looking back at his life. This frees me to be able to say anything, not limited to the vocabulary or perceptions of an 11-year-old, and allows reflection, the making of meaning about the shape of a life. This is what I also do in Aquarium. The story is told from 20 years later, when Caitlin is 32. All of the scenes bring to life her experience at 12, but she’s also able to understand those experiences now and use adult language. I do love Kaye Gibbons’ Ellen Foster, in which she stays closer to the child’s perspective and language, but I prefer the freedom of style and thought that an adult perspective allows.

IFOA: Do you have any plans to do readings of Aquarium in a real aquarium? (haha!)

Vann: I’d love to! We’ve asked the Seattle Aquarium whether they’d be interested.

IFOA: What have you read in the last six months that you have really enjoyed?

Vann: Many books, including Evie Wyld’s All The Birds, Singing and George Saunders’ Tenth of December. And I spend a lot of time on classics, currently translating Beowulf from Old English and Ovid’s Metamorphoses from Latin (struggling on that one!).

David Vann is a former Guggenheim fellow and author. He will be at IFOA Weekly on March 12th.

 

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Poetry NOW: 7th annual Battle of the Bards

1 stage. 20 poets. 1 winner.

The popular poetry competition returns in 2015 to feature 20 of Canada’s upcoming and established poets! One poet will receive an automatic invitation to read at the 36th edition of the International Festival of Authors AND an ad for their book in NOW!

Poetry NOW is presented in partnership with NOW Magazine.11 Poetry NOW logo

Poetry NOW FAQ

IFOA is inviting submissions for Poetry NOW: 7th annual Battle of the Bards. However, with a special event comes some special rules. Even if you’ve submitted/presented work here before, please read on to find out what’s what:

AUTHORS

So what’s this all about, anyway?

In 2009, IFOA posted its first-ever open call for submissions. Poets 35 and younger were invited to be part of a celebration of our 35 years in the reading series business. The standard of entries was astonishing, and the resulting event was one of the highlights of our year. The event returned in 2010, but was opened up to published poets of all ages. 2010 also saw a new partnership with our friends at NOW Magazine, and that collaboration continues again this year!

I’m pretty good, y’know. Will there be any sort of prize?

Oh yes. One reader will win an automatic invitation to appear at the 35th annual International Festival of Authors (October 23–November 2, 2014) AND an ad for their most recent book of poetry in NOW Magazine! Not bad, eh?!

Who is eligible for Poetry NOW?

You must be published by a trade publisher in a collection that is all your own work (so anthologies, literary journals and magazines aren’t eligible, sorry). Your book must have been published within the last five years, and it must be currently in print.

This one seems kind of obvious, but you must also be in Toronto on March 25 and available between 5pm and 10pm. (Sorry, we are unable to cover car/train/boat/plane or accommodation expenses.)

I was a part of last year’s event, can I still enter for the 2015 event?

Absolutely. We’d love to have you back. Besides, maybe you have a new book out since last year’s event…?

What sets Poetry NOW apart from your regular weekly literary events?

We’ll be featuring 20 readers in one event, instead of our usual two or three. And we won’t be making a judgment call about who gets an invite. If you fit the criteria and your name gets pulled out of the hat, you’re in!

Do I need to pre-register? Or can I just sign up on the night?

Although we’re throwing open the call for submissions, we will be confirming the line-up several weeks in advance and liaising with publishers to promote the event according to our usual procedures. Submissions must be made by your publisher by Friday, February 28 at 4pm.

(See our submission guidelines for publishers below.)

What’s the closing date for submissions?

Friday, February 28 at 4pm.

How many authors will get to read at the event? And for how long?

20 authors will read for up to five minutes each.

How will you choose the readers?

Submissions that fit the above criteria will go into a draw. You have as much chance of being selected as the next person.

Who picks the winner?

Judges to be announced shortly.

When will I find out if I’m in?

Publishers will be notified and details confirmed by March 7. We’ll announce the line-up March 10.

What if I have more than one publisher? Can they both submit my work?

By all means, but we will only put your name in the draw once. (Also, see below re: books being for sale on the night of the event.)

Will my books be for sale at the event?

Yes, but we will require each presenting poet or their publishing representative to bring the books on a consignment basis. Your publisher can arrange these details with us once we have the line-up confirmed.

I have lots of friends/family/groupies. How can they all come and support me?

Tickets are $10 (free to our supporters, students with valid ID and youth 25 & under) and can be purchased online soon. Stay tuned!

Don’t forget that we offer a 50% discount to all our events to members of the League of Canadian Poets (and also the Writers’ Union of Canada and the Playwrights Guild of Canada).

Will there be a bar?

You betcha!

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES FOR PUBLISHERS

Please submit eligible titles by email to info@ifoa.org by Friday, February 28 at 4pm.

You must include the following information:

  • Name of Author
  • Brief bio
  • Eligible title(s) and their year(s) of publications

Please write “Poetry NOW” in the subject line.

And please let us know if we already have the book under consideration for our regular weekly event series.

Once the 20 authors have been picked, we will contact the relevant publishers to confirm details.

At that point, you will be required to send:

  • 3 copies of the book(s) the author will be presenting
  • An author bio and brief synopsis of the book
  • An author photo and book cover image (both as high res. jpegs)
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