Lydia Davis on Wikipedia
Lydia Davis is the author of one novel and seven story collections, the most recent
of which was a finalist for the 2007 National Book Award. She is the
acclaimed translator of a new edition of Swann’s Way and is at work on a new translation of Madame Bovary
(Farrer, Straus and Giroux, 2009)
by Tania Hershman
The Thirteenth Woman and Other Stories (1976)
Story, and Other Stories (1983)
Break it Down
Almost No Memory
Samuel Johnson is Indignant (2001)
varieties of Disturbance
with Lydia Davis
Stories is made up of the stories from four of
your published collections. When did you start
writing short stories and how did your first
book get published?
Lydia Davis: It actually consists of all the stories in all four volumes, in
their original order. I started writing short stories in college.
They were more traditional at that time. The earliest I would dare
publish appeared a year or two ago online. It's called Ways, and
I wrote it when I was nineteen. My first book was a slim volume of
stories called The 13th Woman and Other Stories. It was published
by two friends of mine when I was 29, as a book issue of their
literary magazine, which was called Living Hand.
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
LD: No, I never really thought ahead. It was hard enough just to
write one story--sometimes a story would take me two years to
finish. I still work that way--concentrate on each story and then
after a while gather them together to see if I have enough for a
TSR: Looking back over all these stories, do
you see anything about your own writing that you
hadn't seen before?
LD: I actually avoid looking back and making any kind of appraisal
of my work. I concentrate on going forward. Reviewers do sometimes
find common features in the work, but often enough they find
different common features...
does the word "story"
mean to you?
LD: By now, for me, the word has been stretched to fit all sorts of
different kinds of writing. I usually think a story has to have at
least a shred of narrative in it, or a narrative a reader can
imagine on the basis of a few words. Some of my "stories" may be
closer to meditations or prose poems than to the traditional story,
but I don't want to begin giving each work a different label.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
LD: I have by now incorporated or internalized the ideal reader, I
think. And that ideal reader is rather like me, and will enjoy what
I enjoy, about the stories. But in fact every reader comes away
with different things, from a story, and often has a different
interpretation of it, as well. I like hearing those different
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
LD: I'm always interested to hear which stories were particularly
striking or meaningful to a reader. The answer is never
TSR: How does
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
LD: It feels very good, of course--though I'm just happy that people
are reading at all, these days! When I travel, I always count up
how many people sitting near me are reading an actual book made out
of paper, for example.
What are you working on now?
LD: I'm just finishing putting in order the photos for a little book
about the cows that live across the road from me. Then I will be
going on to some work in history--a first for me.
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
LD: Let's see--the very latest one was In Persuasion Nation, by
George Saunders, very funny and disturbing. The one before that was
Angel's Laundromat, by Lucia Berlin, a writer of short stories in
the vein of Tillie Olsen and Grace Paley and Alice Munro who should
be much better known than she is. And before that, a collection of
very good short-shorts--small realistic narratives-- by J. Robert
Lennon called Pieces for the Left Hand.