5 Questions with Eileen Myles, Author of Pathetic Literature

Nov 23, 2022

Eileen Myles is the author of more than twenty books, including Afterglow (a dog memoir), Inferno (a poet’s novel), Chelsea Girls, and Cool For You. Myles’s many honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, four Lambda Literary Awards, the Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing, as well as grants from Creative Capital (nonfiction) and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts (poetry), and the Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant.

City Lights will be celebrating Eileen’s latest book Pathetic Literature with a virtual conversation between Eileen, Fanny Howe, Maggie Nelson, Camille Roy, Laurie Weeks, Simone White, Frank Wilderson, and Jillian Weise on Tuesday, November 29 at 6:00 p.m. PST.


Where are you writing to us from?

I’m on a plane between Paris and Athens. I will be reading from the new French edition of Chelsea Girls in Paris. And a book of poems was just published in Greek.

What is bringing you joy right now, personally/artistically/habitually?

I’m very happy answering these questions. I love a little work. I’m excited about thinking about time. How I want more of it and it seems like agreeing to do less would be the answer. Then there’s be more time and space and I can do whatever I want with it. There’s a novel I need to finish. I also am crazy about yoga. It’s remarkable to breathe and notice how many weird ways I hold my body and yoga reminds me with a new kind of discomfort not to do that. Like to not always hold myself tensely like I’m saving something. It’s just angst.

Which writers, artists, and others influence your work in general, and this book, specifically?

Well there’s 105 trembling writers in this book so they influence me massively collectively. Pathetic Literature shows me a reading road I’ve been on for a long time. The oldest influences in the book are probably James Schuyler, Andrea Dworkin and Valerie Solanas. Bob Kaufman and Chantal Ackerman have also been with me for a few. And Rumi. Always Renee Gladman, always Laura Henriksen, Simone White. Rae, Rae Armatrout is great. Dodie Bellamy and Kevin. Dennis Cooper. Samuel Delaney. So it’s like a map of old friends or a representation of the mind I’ve spun from all that/this reading. I was teaching in San Diego when I conceived of this book – about 15-20 years so it’s encouraging to see that my fleeting and paused ambitions will likely get realized in a while if I take the steps. The pandemic gave me time to do all this reading and editing.

What books are you reading right now and would you recommend any to others?

I am always recommending Fernando Flores these days. I’ve read all three of his books and I’m waiting patiently for more. I’m beginning Moby Dick because I’m traveling and putting it on my phone and computer meant I could start. I just finished Kristin Omarsdottir’s Swan People which is remarkable and a group of us in New York are reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass which offers a really not optimistic exactly but big circular vision of how to think about living like we do in a fraught and endangered time.

If you opened a bookstore, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

I would put one on St. Mark’s Place about the middle of the block and it would be called the St. Mark’s Bookstore. I miss it. Pathetic Literature of course would keep selling out. We would keep getting more and people would be standing in the aisles reading and it and we would figure out some mechanism maybe a lottery for giving some copies free. So that if you couldn’t buy it, you could still read it. I guess that’s a library. I’m inventing a bookstore that’s also a library. Which bookstores are. I’ve spent hours standing there even in City Lights reading a book and that would be encouraged in my store.

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