5 Questions with Max Porter, Author of SHY

May 22, 2023

Max Porter is the author of Lanny, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, winner of the International Dylan Thomas Prize, and The Death of Francis Bacon. He lives in Bath, England with his family.

City Lights in conjunction with Graywolf Press will present Max Porter in conversation with Susan Steinberg celebrating the publication of Max’s new book SHY, published by Graywolf Press. This event will be held in Kerouac Alley, between Columbus and Grant Avenues, and City Lights and Vesuvio Cafe on Thursday, May 25 at 6:00 p.m. PST. Admission is free to the public. Seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Where are you writing to us from?

Right now I’m in Amsterdam, a city I love very deeply. I just went to a trade conference and met booksellers from around the country, to present Shy and talk about translation, teenage pain and parental anxiety. This morning I watched a yellow plastic bag with a smiling rave face drift down the canal, which was an ominous sight, given what does and doesn’t happen in Shy.

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

I am finding joy in music by Wilma Archer, Ezra Collective, Lankum, Anna Von Hausswolff. The posthumous release Voyageur from Ali Farka Toure is monumental, pure genius, and reminds me why he is the greatest of our times.

I am finding joy in the knowledge that I’ll be home tonight to see my family. Tomorrow I’ll walk my dog, Happy, by the river.

I treated myself to a new pair of Rototo socks and the feel of these socks on my feet is such a delight. I’m new to good socks.

Knowing that I have a copy of Ursula Le Guin’s SPACE CRONE: Selected Essays, in my bag for the train journey home.

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

There is a children’s book called Angry Arthur which is very important to me and the study of boyhood in my work. That, and the New Directions edition of Rilke’s Book of Hours, were the books that most inspired this new book. On the subject of ND, I’m collecting their whole series of hardback silver-spined novellas. Books by Helen de Witt, László Krasznahorkai, Yoko Tawada. More generally it’s been poetry that’s kept me going. I recently visited your book store and bought extraordinary work by Will Alexander, Forrest Gander and DS Marriott. In the UK I’ve been treasuring work by Victoria Adukwei Bulley, and Zaffar Kunial.

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

I’ve been reading the new Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won. And yes, I would recommend it with my whole heart. My favourite book of Kang’s remains Human Acts, but there are passages in Greek Lessons about being, personhood, silence, seeing and being seen, how language works, that are genuinely breathtaking.

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

Right now, I would open a bookstore on Parliament Square in London, where the late Brian Haw set up camp for many years in protest against Britain’s bloody imperialism. It would be called NOBODY IS ILLEGAL, and it would sell books from around the world that speak to the simple truth that people move, and that people from one place, with one type of skin, are not more valuable, or worthwhile, than any ‘other’, and that more and more people are on the move because of a climate catastrophe that most British politicians are either ignoring or actively denying (or worse, being paid to ignore or deny), or because of foreign wars of our making or profiting from. And the bestselling book in this store would be Sally Hayden’s My Fourth Time, We Drowned.

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