Editor’s Note: This is the fourth interview of several we’ll be publishing this month, all with our section editors. They’re an eclectic bunch, each with their own projects and day jobs. Like the rest of the LARB ecosystem, they rely on the donations of our readership, and we hope you’ll consider giving this month. This one is with Dinah Lenney, our Senior Creative Nonfiction Editor.
Give us some background – how did you end up working at LARB? What do you do for LARB? What do you do when you’re not working for LARB?
So let’s see — it was over a year ago now. I was in the middle of writing a piece for LARB, working with Tom’s notes and having a blast with the revision — as I recall we were on the phone, fussing and tweaking, when he asked if I’d consider editing some nonfiction. I wasn’t sure at first, but Tom is very convincing, isn’t he? He made it sound like it would be fun — and so it is. Fun and fascinating and addictive in its way. And what do I do? Well, I assign and edit under the “creative nonfiction” umbrella — not the best term, I don’t suppose, but the one most people sort of understand, right? And I should say, too, there’s so much of it out there — memoir, long and short form essay, hybrid forms — just no way to cover it all — no way to know about it all. But so many good writers want to join the conversation—and they help to keep me apprised, for which I’m grateful.
And when I’m not working for LARB, I’m teaching, mostly — I’m on the faculty in three graduate writing programs (two of them low-residency)— which means I’m thinking and talking about reading and writing a whole lot of the time.
Could you talk about one of the pieces you submitted for the 2014 LARB Digital Anthology? What was it, what was the editing process, and why did you submit it? (The 2014 LARB Digital Anthology is available as a thank-you to donors of $50 or above during our fund drive.)
Geez, first I have to choose two pieces (how is that done?) and now I have to choose between them? I can’t, I just can’t, don’t ask me. With all the wonderful and various work on the site, how did I ever choose in the first place. Well, but it’s funny — see I meant to be fair; to somehow indicate the range of what we do. So I picked Susan McCallum-Smith’s review of Geoff Dyer’s Another Great Day at Sea —because I admire his work and hers, because the piece is thoughtful and thorough (she clearly knows his ‘oeuvre’), because she surprised and moved me at the end with her insight into both the author and the genre. Also because she’s a woman — a Scot, living in Ireland, reviewing an Englishman. And I chose Ben Anastas’s “Atrocity Exhibition” about the 9/11 Memorial, because it’s smart reporting and unabashedly personal — emotional, I mean — at the same time, from a male writer engaged in cultural as opposed to literary criticism. I therefore imagined I was pairing two very different kinds of essays. And I was. But I’ve just realized, just this minute, in fact, that both are about America — about what it means to be an American in the 21st. Although that wasn’t on purpose, not at all.
Talk about a book you read this year you’d recommend – could be recent or old, well-known or unknown. As long as you read it this year and you think it’s worth reading.
I recently reread To the Lighthouse. And then I listened to the audiobook. And all I can say is how did I think I’d ever read it before? This time around (and this is as it should be, this is what we hope for, right?) the book was that much more profound, resonant, real to me — unbearably sad, hopeful, true. I didn’t want to part with it. And I can’t wait to read it again.