Lidia Yuknavitch of Chiasmus Media:
1. Literature is in trouble -- that is, more trouble than usual. Why do you think this is? The increasing prevalence of TV? The distractions of increasingly narcotic subcultures such as video games? Sept. 11? Or is talk of the "death of literature" simple exaggeration?
well, i agree and i don't. on the SURFACE, you are of course correct. i'm forever swayed by the question "when is art" rather than "what is art," and the current zeitgeist is at best clusterfucked and at the bottom of the barrel totally sucking the dick of capitalism.
these PRECISE times have brought us unbelievably cool books. for example:
lance olsen / nietzche's kisses
steve tomasula / vas
lynn tillman / american genius
debra diblasi / the jiri chronicles and other fictions...and all the books WE publish...heh.
2. And what is literature, anyway? Should the traditional novel be considered the prime example of it?
absolutely not. but neither should it disappear. i think it should hold its ground, for there are truly remarkable phrasings happening even inside market driven forms--jeanette winterson's LIGHT HOUSEKEEPING and mary gaitskill's VERONICA come to mind. anne carson and carole maso. lydia davis and a couple of less know writers, steve tomasula and debra diblasi...
so i guess what i'm saying is that the DIALOGUE made between the traditional novel (the LITERARY novel and NOT the commercial grisham type deal) and the non-traditional novel is alive and well and worth taking a look at.it's a big ocean, the literary. trust me when i say it is capable of holding the traditional novel, the non traditional novel, and all the new forms emerging which challenge the dominant mode of production (which is of course film).
3. Prizes and awards are playing an increasing role in determining an author's career-trajectory. In short, winning a major literary prize can win a writer a large audience overnight (not to mention, considerable fame and financial remuneration). But, as British critic Jason Cowley has observed, what is lost is the ability for readers to think in a critically complex fashion.
Are literary prizes dangerous in this regard? Do they convey to the public the message that "this book is worth reading and all these others aren't"?
probably. you now what virginia woolf said. give em back. don't accept them. and yet, some truly activist writers have been awarded "prizes" that have helped them move around in the world--leslie silko, rebecca brown, mary gaitskill...i'm mentioning women that matter to me...so i guess i'd say it's a double edge sword.
the award system in general is a crock of shit, and yet when important activist people score them, what i tend to think is, yeah, go get that, go take that, run with it, you've gone underneath things and hoodwinked the market and now is your chance to open a door for the outsiders. it's too simple to just say that awards stink. two of my favorite non-mainstream kick toukas authors just won NEA's--lance olsen and michael mejai..i feel no need to piss on that. i feel like their winning sort of pee pees on the whole system.
4. Literary publishing has always been a marriage of art and commerce. But in recent years, the Cult of the Deal has become more influential, with agents demanding larger advances and marketing people paying especially close attention to sales figures. Is the "art" side of the business being pushed out?
yes, without question.
art in my sense of the word and concept and passion actually stands in direct oppostion and resistance to the market.
5. Many major publishers now refuse to accept "unsolicited" work; that is, they will not even consider work unless it is agented. Is this a sound policy from point of view of finding the best new literary voices? Isn't there a chance good writing will be squeezed out?
no it is not a sound policy. it is driven by the market and capitalism. yes it completely obliterates good writing and squeezes it out.
but it also designs a good edge for real artists to define themselves against.
6. Alternatively, for small presses that do accept unsolicited work, is the problem that the majors are squeezing the small houses at the distribution/retail marketing end? In other words, even when good writers get published by small houses, do they have a fair chance of winning an audience? Or are the major houses introducing an overly corporate, overly aggressive mentality to the book trade?
well, they have a more than fair chance of winning an audience. they just don't have much of a chance to win a MASS market audience. but then i honestly believe that authors who make the independent press choice are, to some extent, CHOOSING to let go of the mass market audience in favor of the small but more important readership. at least those authors who have integrity and who have bothered to educate themselves about what it is that indie presses "do."i also think independent presses like chiasmus, starcherone, clear cut, spuytin duyvil, etc... are doing vital underground work--carving out paths underneath the commercial machine. counter-culture work. this is then by its very nature against the grain of the market.
7. Returning to the question of agents -- are they too powerful? If so, in what ways? Or are they a largely beneficial and necessary element of contemporary publishing?
they are necessary to mass-marketed writing. apparently.
8. Does America have too many publishers? Or too few?
i don't think it matters what we think about this, because we are currently lodged in a state of high capitalism, so there isn't much stopping the publishing proliferation. i guess i'd say we have too many book-as-product for the market ventures and not enough make way for art efforts.
9. In your opinion, how will new technologies such as the e-book or audio books affect the "form" of the book?
it's all good. ha. what i mean is that all new forms, all new modes of production keep literature alive, noisy, unflinching. new forms come along and they open up or interrogate the traditions, and sometimes they last and sometimes they don't but even the failures are glorious, since they create fissures for art with a pulse to say something or do something. even if it's short-lived.and god damn it, the "form" of the book OUGHT to be in a state of constant infiltration, else the market WILL win.
10. Putting aside the hype, does the Internet provide a real opportunity to publishers? If so, how?
well it puts the mode of production into the hands of the masses. this makes most people nervous. they worry about things like quality and standards and hierarchies and rules of the game. it disrupts all kinds of systems meant to "order" literature. which is why i like it--even with its warts.
11. And what role can traditional, venerable institutions such as libraries and English Departments play in reversing the decline in sales of literary fiction?
i'm not that interested in the "sales" part of the question--i mean i'm not an idiot, i know we have to eat and take care of our families. i just think making art trumps making money. but to take the sass off, english departments should order and teach independent press books. period. if they had any self respect or integrity, that's what they'd do, instead of sucking the member of the market and cult of big name author poo.
12. What projects are you working on now that you are excited about?
two experimental novel projects (one snuck up on me while i have been finishing my first), a collection of non-fiction, and a short story collection. all hybrids. and my son and i have been painting and drawing together.
Bio: Lidia Yuknavitch is the author of three collections of short fictions-- Real to Reel (FC2, 2002), Her Other Mouths (House of Bones Press, 1997) and Liberty's Excess (FC2, 2000)-- and a book of criticism, Allegories of Violence (Routledge, 2000). Her writing has appeared in Postmodern Culture, Fiction International, Another Chicago Magazine, Zyzzyva, Critical Matrix, Other Voices, and elsewhere, and in the anthologies Representing Bisexualities (NYU Press) and Third Wave Agenda (University of Minnesota Press). She has been the co-editor of Northwest Edge: Deviant Fictions and the editor of two girls review. She teaches fiction writing and literature in Oregon.