was born in St Louis. he is a graduate of Hampshire College and NYU,
where he was a New York Times fellow. His work has appeared in Oxford
American, The Southern Review, Colorado Review, New Letters, Best New
American Voices, and elsewhere. Stories of his were cited in both the
Best American Short Stories and Pushcart Prize anthologies, and have
earned awards from the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Bronx Council
on the Arts, and the St Louis Post-Dispatch. He has received
scholarships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers' Conferences, and
has taught at NYU, Penn State-Altoona, and the Bronx Writers' Center.
He lives with his wife Kimberley and their two young daughters.
with Matthew Pitt
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Matthew Pitt:The oldest dates to my
first year of graduate school, or ten years before the book won the
Autumn House Prize. The newest made its way into the manuscript weeks
before I sent it to contests. That most recent story is the only one
I wrote after my first daughter’s birth…and the child in that
story is deaf, doesn’t speak, and gets kidnapped. Is that a "paging
Dr. Freud" moment? It’s safe to say I was riddled with anxiety
about becoming a first-time father: absence of control, stark
awareness that there is no instruction manual. A decent mirror for
the anxieties a writer faces down with the blank page (though a blank
page doesn’t require three a.m. feedings or diaper changes)! I was
also anxious of how it might disrupt my work. Happy aside: it’s
been good for my work, and for my perspective (in several senses of
the word). Happy aside, Part Two: In what has to contend for Best
Week Ever status, my book won its publication prize five days after
my second daughter’s birth. Maybe I should have tried my hand at
the slot machines that week, too, but I was too delirious and
exhausted. Summoning the energy to make macaroni was accomplishment
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
conception of it kept cracking and collapsing and rebuilding itself.
Over the ten years, I’d add one story, cull two, revamp another.
There’s a lot of pondering and fiddling; second guesses, fifteenth
drafts, for each story. It’s ad hoc architecture, really.
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
MP: During a meeting with my graduate thesis advisor, Chuck Wachtel, I
asked about his approach to ordering a book. He made a remarkable
comment about how authors should think about how the stories touch,
like a chain of islands, beneath their surfaces. Curiously, the
collection finally felt complete after I wrote its two most recent
stories, both of which involve an imagined island nation.
So I think it’s first a matter of instinct, and then
figuring the impetus behind the instinct. In a larger sense, the
characters in all of the stories seem to be living/acting out along the
fringes: of society, of normal behavior. They often don’t want to exist
on the margins, but it’s where they find themselves, living lives of
impulse and recklessness. That may come out of my growing up in the
Midwest, where keeping quiet is most people’s m.o., and what’s under
the surface is kept muted. Anyway, writing about wilder characters
keeps me on my toes. Who at a party tells, or wants to hear, stories
about people who conduct themselves in a restrained manner? We want
outbursts. We’re fascinated by passion, not politeness. We’re drawn to
devils, not diplomats.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
A way to present
experience through the vessel of language. And I believe that each we
read fiction, the imagined experience contained in it amplifies,
informs, or distills our own lived experience.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
Me: at least in the
first draft. But once I’ve moved to a certain point, another reader
comes into the picture: a more casual reader, the kind who might give
me three or four paragraphs, tops, to take them somewhere unfamiliar,
or point out light they haven’t seen.
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection,
anything at all?
I’m not sure. My
favorite stories and story collections seem to already be suggesting
questions to readers: encouraging you to wonder along with their
authors from page to page.
TSR: How does
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
It really floors me
when readers contact me out of the blue. Some have told me the newest
story struck them most. That’s gratifying, since I think that story
suggests what my newer work is concerned with. Besides, I didn’t
have time to get that new story published in a journal, so I wondered
if I was serving something raw and undercooked. Story Salmonella!
On the flip side, other
readers have reported being affected by the book’s oldest story.
That’s a story that feels long in the tooth to me. So the fact that
it feels fresh to others helps me see it freshly, too.
What are you working on now?
novel and a new
collection. The novel continues the lives of characters from stories
in the collection. A stay of execution for them.
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
Can I expand the
parameters of this question? I want to first list the last three
collections that were their authors’ debut works: If
I Loved You,
I Would Tell You This,
by Robin Black; Normal
People Don’t Live Like
This, by Dylan Landis; and Tunneling to the Center of Earth, by
Now for the last three
collections I’ve read by established authors: Robert Boswell’s
The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards, Alice Munro’s Runaway, and
Antonya Nelson’s Female Trouble.
Finally, a collection
that isn’t out yet, but one I’m looking forward to with immense
anticipation: Charles Baxter’s Gryphon: New and Selected Stories. I
haven’t read a single Charles Baxter story that didn’t make me
want to happily re-read it…or, despondently, make me want to
rewrite a story of my own.