5 Questions with William Brewer, author of The Red Arrow

May 17, 2022

author photo of william brewer

Photo of William Brewer by Carolyn Fong

William Brewer is the author of I Know Your Kind, a winner of the National Poetry Series. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, and The Best American Poetry series. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow, he is a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University. He makes his home in Oakland, California. His newest book, The Red Arrow, a novel, is published by Knopf.

William will be reading from The Red Arrow in our City Lights LIVE! virtual event series on Tuesday, May 17th, 2022!


Where are you writing to us from?

I’m writing from Oakland, CA.

What has been most important for you, personally/artistically/habitually, during the pandemic?

Walking, running, and hiking. Time on my feet is central to my process. It’s when my imagination untangles knots, plus it’s crucial for general well-being. This was especially true during the pandemic, during which I ambulated through most of Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. While I already had a deep love for this place, all that time spent wandering forged in me an especially intimate connection to the Bay that I’m not sure I’ve felt anywhere else.

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

This book directly calls up the influences of W.G. Sebald, Carlo Rovelli, Geoff Dyer, Thomas Bernhard, Michael Herr, Michael Pollan, and Denis Johnson—all writers I admire. Musically, I wrote the book listening exclusively to a broad mix of classical Indian ragas. I edited it to proto-punk and early punk, especially Patti Smith and Iggy Pop.

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

I recently finished Martin Amis’s hulking, raunchy, deranged, and very funny novel London Fields, and Geoff Dyer’s new book The Last Days of Roger Federer—an extended meditation on endings, especially the ends of careers—which I’m grooving with in all sorts of ways. I’m also loving Kate Folk’s Out There and rereading the legend Lydia Davis for teaching.

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

I’m going to cheat and say I don’t want to own a bookstore because going to different bookstores is one of my favorite things to do and I’m guessing that if I owned a bookstore that’s where I’d have to spend all my time. As a compromise, I’ll say that I have a deep love of the old magazine stands you still encounter in NYC and Europe, and I think it’d be deeply cool to build one of those somewhere in the East Bay, except in addition to the usual magazines it would sell the expensive, impractical niche magazines I love, and then for books it would exclusively sell NYRB Classics and the UK editions of the Penguin Modern Classics, with their perfect soft blue spines. The stand would also sell Sullana cigarettes from Switzerland, espresso shots, sparkling mineral water, and half-pints of Trumer Pils on draft. There’d be a couple café tables and chairs placed to the side where people could sit and flip through their purchase while blasting a cig or sipping a Trumer and listening to good music played from a speaker at an intimate volume. You know the energy! 

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