Key Notes: 5 questions with Ander Monson

by Angele’ Anderfuren

Letter to a future lover coverNovelist, poet and nonfiction writer Ander Monson is one of the featured keynote speakers at the 2015 NonfictioNow conference this October. His latest book, Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries, came out earlier this year (Graywolf Press). Monson also curates Essay Daily, edits DIAGRAM and the New Michigan Press, and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Arizona. Next year Coffee House Press will release “How We Speak to One Another: an Essay Daily Reader,” which Monson edited. As if that’s not enough, Monson also has two new essays out at Electric Literature that came from a short residency he did at the Kinsey Institute’s library. NAU MFA student Angele’ Anderfuren interviewed the eclectic writer in preparation for his trip up the mountain in Arizona to NAU, host of the conference.

Angele’: Letter to a Future Lover has its roots in found notes in library books, notes left for future readers, on purpose, by neglect, etc. Stephen King, in On Writing, describes writing as telepathy. What are your thoughts about writing as a way of transcending time and space?
Ander: I don’t know that writing’s telepathy, though it is a way of exciting particular states in a reader whom you know very little about. I think of it more (the essay especially) as a kind of virtual experience of a self, admittedly a self who’s a shaped character, some tiny subset of the real self, which is too vast to know. In reading an essay you get to run–on your hardware–a software simulation of the essayist. And the great thing about it is that, unlike running a software program, good literature stays compatible with the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. So it can speak across time. Isn’t it astonishing that we’re still able to be moved by a sentence or a scene written four hundred years ago?
Angele’: Tell us about what you originally found in a library book that first inspired you to write a book around this topic.
Ander: The book sort of started in opposition to my last book, which made the case for the future of the book in its interactions with the digital. I realized that I didn’t really like ebooks, though I find them convenient in certain ways. But why, I wondered. Well, since I was spending all this time in libraries, I realized that what I really loved about books was how I could interact with previous readers. Really the book probably came out of finding the long erotic inscription in that Gary Snyder poetry collection, though I didn’t know that reading it had affected me the way it had for some time.
Angele’: What is your favorite thing you have written or left in books for other people to find?
Ander: The whole book! Almost all of it was published into books for others. That’s its one proper edition: of one, scattered in about 75 pieces in libraries all over the world.
Angele’: I felt (feel) guilty about buying Letter as an ebook, given the tangibility of the topic, but I wanted to start reading it immediately. I was surprised, in a way, that it was even available in e-format, where the reader can’t leave notes for future readers of their copy, should they be so inspired to do so. So it made me wonder, what impact do you feel e-books have on libraries and communities, now and into the future?
Ander: In reading the ebook, which I agree is indeed funny, you’re getting a very different experience of reading Letter. Actually I hadn’t wanted it to be out as an ebook at all for obvious reasons, but in conversations with my editor at Graywolf, I thought well, okay, let’s do it, but only if I can offer a different reading experience that takes advantage of what ebooks do well. So there’s one essay in there that’s exclusive to the ebook (which one it is you can probably figure out for yourself: I think it’s kind of a funny in-joke that it’s there at all), and the ebook encourages you to read in a couple different orders. Of course you can do that in the printed book too, but most of us read it in order a page at a time. It is sad, of course, that the ebook can’t retain marks from the previous reader, but the kindle, for instance, offers some aggregation about readers’ reading habits which I find quite interesting. Libraries aren’t really just homes for dead books though; they’re living things, places to facilitate conversations among communities–and across time. I very much doubt that printed books are going away, but libraries are rightly also lending ebooks. Doing so actually addresses one of the biggest bottlenecks of libraries: making space for new books on the shelves.
Angele’: Give us a preview of the topic of your NonfictioNow conference keynote. What can we look forward to hearing from you?
Ander: Michael Martone and I are producing a collaborative keynote (collaborative both between the two of us and between other contributors to the keynote) in part about collaboration in nonfiction.

If you can’t get enough of Monson, like us, watch for surprise “publishings” from Monson at the NonfictioNow conference. He says Letter is “not just a book; it’s really a record of an ongoing practice. So I’ve continued writing and publishing the cards in books. Might at NonfictioNow too in fact.” Tell us if you find one of his treasures!

You can find Monson on Twitter @AngerMonsoon and Angele’ @AngeleOutWest.

Key Notes: 5 questions with Ander Monson

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