Lit House Welcomes Award-Winning Novelist

By Ji Kim
Elm Staff Writer

On Feb. 16, as part of the lecture series sponsored by the Sophie Kerr Committee, Washington College welcomed novelist Paul Lisicky to read selections from his upcoming works, “The Burning House,” “Unbuilt Projects,” and “The Narrow Door.” Lisicky also discussed his inspirations and the changes he went through as a writer, as well as his passions and the influential people of his life.

Dr. Robert Mooney, associate professor of English and creative writing, began the Rose O’Neil Literary House event with an introduction of Lisicky and his accomplishments.

Lisicky graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in English. He then graduated from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop with a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing.

Among his awards are those from the James Michener/Copernicus Society, the Henfield Foundation, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Both Lisicky’s 1998 debut novel “Lawnboy” and his 2002 memoir “Famous Builder” were met with positive reviews.

At the reading, Lisicky started with a couple of excerpts from his novel “The Burning House,” which is coming out this spring.

“I think that this book is, on one level, a story about what people do when they have been together in a relationship for a long time and how they might do the strange thing in which they untangle from one another in order to ‘see’ each other again,” said Lisicky.

He also read a piece from “Unbuilt Projects” which will be released this fall. Lisicky described this book as a fluid work that takes elements from various writing styles.

“It’s a collection of very short prose pieces that have a foot in poetry, another foot in lyric essay, and, if it’s possible to have a third foot, a foot in fiction,” he said.

Additionally, the novelist spoke at length about “The Narrow Door,” which he said is a nonfiction book about friendship, and, in particular, the decades-long friendship between himself and the late writer, Denise Gess.

“She was in part my big sister, my best friend, and a mentor. I’m positive that I wouldn’t be writing without her influence in my life,” said Lisicky.

Lisicky and Gess met at Rutgers University in the early ‘80s whereupon the two became “like a brother and sister together.”

“Have you ever had a friend who you were kind of grateful for? It was like ‘She likes me? Wow!’ Our relationship changed over time; part of what the book [‘The Narrow Door’] talks about is how our positions sort of changed. There were times where we didn’t talk to each other because of competition issues…We became really close in the last couple of years of her life. She was really funny. She liked to laugh in a silly way,” he said.

Lisicky finished the reading by talking about how he started writing by simply taking a writing workshop as an undergraduate. He described his love for music, especially Joni Mitchell and Indie music, and how it influenced his writing.

“I just loved the freedom of working with sound, and I think that for years and years I tried to write novels in a very expected way…I figured out my imagination—my attention to sound—and that I live somewhere in the cracks between genres. I don’t do well inside the pockets of genres. I think my work has loosened up in the last five years because I think that I’m trying to reclaim what I left behind as a musician,” said Lisicky.

Lisicky currently lives in New York City, teaching writing programs at Rutgers University and New York University.

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