Interview with David Shields

david-shields-portrait1LUMINA Issue XII will be released in just over a week! Included are over twenty pieces of poetry, prose, and artwork (now in color!) that this year’s staff is proud to give a home. This issue also features an interview with David Shields. What are the definitions of words such as “non-fiction,” “writer,” and “poet”? What effect has the digital had on our writing lives? Why is art necessary? David and LUMINA’s Editor-in-Chief, Brittany Baker address these questions and more. Following is an excerpt of their discussion.


“I’ve sacrificed my life for art,” David Shields says in his book, How Literature Saved My Life. Shields is the author of thirteen books of fiction, nonfiction, and genre-defying works, including Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, and the forthcoming I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel. Here he sacrifices some time to discuss his art (and the NBA) with LUMINA’s Editor-in-Chief, Brittany Baker.

Brittany Baker: You mention it in How Literature Saved My Life, but can you talk for a little bit about your transition from the novel to nonfiction, primarily to the fragmented, collage-like form of Reality Hunger? What itch did nonfiction scratch for you that fiction no longer could?

David Shields: The passages I loved in novels have always been when the narrative stopped and the author/speaker/narrator stopped and just thought about things. That seems to me loneliness-assuaging (see answer to next-to-last question below) in a way that fictional plots and characters never have been for me. I’m interested in one person thinking aloud for 174 pages and wrestling with existence and conveying that wrestling to the reader; this seems to me a significant human activity. Entertaining the reader with a page-turning story almost never has that quality for me anymore.

BB: Your work is at once very confessional and pretty brazen in terms of form, since much of it is borrowed and rearranged to make new meaning. What do you think is at work in culture to make us “reality hungry”—even so much that we are ready and willing to push the limits of form to access it?

DS: A book should be an axe to break the frozen sea within us, says Kafka. Our lives are so mediated and saturated and simulated that we are numb and bored. More bubble wrap/more dreamscape is not going to break the frozen sea within us.

BB: Was there a lot of backlash from Reality Hunger?

DS: Flaubert: “The value of a work of art can be measured by the harm spoken of it.”

BB: Touché. What are you working on now?

DS: My new book, I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel, is coming out next year. It’s a debate between me and my former student, Caleb. He wanted to become an artist, but he overcommitted to life; he’s the stay-at-home dad to three young girls. I wanted to become a person, but I overcommitted to art. We argue about life and art for 200 pages.


Look for the full interview in the upcoming issue of LUMINA which will be released on April 14th! Click here to pre-order the issue.

David Shields is the author of fourteen books, including How Literature Saved My Life(forthcoming from Knopf on February 5, 2013); Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (Knopf, 2010), named one of the best books of the year by more than thirty publications; The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (Knopf, 2008), a New York Times bestseller; Black Planet: Facing Race during an NBA Season, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award;Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity, winner of the PEN/Revson Award; andDead Languages: A Novel, winner of the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award. His essays and stories have appeared in the New York Times MagazineHarper’sEsquire,Yale Review,Village VoiceSalonSlateMcSweeney’s, and Utne Reader; he’s written reviews for the New York Times Book ReviewLos Angeles Times Book ReviewBoston Globe, and Philadelphia Inquirer. His work has been translated into fifteen languages.

Discover more about David Shields on his website.