In January 2010, Poets & Writers named Floyd Skloot one of fifty of the most inspiring authors in the world. He is the author of four creative nonfiction books (The Night Side, In the Shadow of Memory, The World of Light, The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer’s Life), seven books of poetry (Music Appreciation, The Fiddler’s Trance, The Evening Light, Approximately Paradise, The End of Dreams, Selected Poems: 1970-2005, The Snow’s Music) and four books of fiction (Pilgrim’s Harbor, Summer Blue, The Open Door, Patient 002). His wife is painter Beverly Hallberg and his daughter is Rebecca Skloot, award-winning author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
Floyd contracted a virus that targeted his brain in 1988, and it has impacted his neurological functioning, damaging his memory, balance, abstract reasoning powers and concentration. It’s also forced him to completely change his writing process. Nevertheless, for well over twenty years post-diagnosis, Floyd marches on and continues to carve out his name as one of our country’s best multi-genre creative writers.
He agreed to answer a few questions and I jumped at the opportunity.
CC: Floyd, many writers struggle throughout their career to discover their writing process. Prior to the diagnosis, you seemed to have found yours through the structure provided by the routine of regular writing habits, formal precision, clarity of direction. However, after the diagnosis you had to change things altogether – working at unpredictable times in much smaller chunks and in absolute silence. How do you feel this has changed your writing? Have there been unexpected benefits through working in this different style?
FS: Because I can only work in fragments, without relying on abstractions or pre-determined structures, without a strong sense of where I’m going, writing has become an act of discovery for me. I work slowly, gradually seeing where the fragments lead, and in a sense sharing the exploration with a reader.
CC: In 2012, Tupelo Press will publish your seventh book of poems: Close Reading. The book’s description says that it “begins with ten poems about painters, composers, and writers at critical moments in their personal and creative lives, moments when everything changes or comes into focus.” Can you provide our readers with a bit more insight into this fascinating topic? Also, what impact did your family have on the creation of this piece?
FS: Early in my writing about the way my life had suddenly changed, I understood that only writing about my experience would be a trap, limiting what I might learn or discover, a vanishing into the hole of self-absorption. Also, in my reading as I tried to learn about neurology, virology, cognitive science, I was led to many stories about artists whose lives and careers had been impacted by sudden change–not just illness, but all sorts of unpredictable challenges. Reading and writing about them made me feel less alone in my experience, and taught me so much about human adaptability, strength, courage.
My wife is a painter, musician, and fiber artist. We married in 1993 and as she worked I found that my reading about art was helping me understand what she was doing, just as seeing her work gave me a language with which to speak of art. Similarly, my daughter with her brave, fierce, compassionate dedication to the book she spent ten years writing, inspired my own dedication, and also provided insight into processes of creation.
CC: You’re a prolific book reviewer and a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Boston Globe, and the Harvard Review. Well-written book reviews can take tremendous amounts of time and creative energy. And journals rarely pay for them. As such, many writers (particularly those younger) rarely write them. What have book reviews – the close reading of and reflection on recent works by others – brought to your career?
FS: I’ve done reviews since the very beginning of my writing life more than forty years ago. I feel that it’s an essential part of my creative activity, helping me to clarify for myself what works and what doesn’t and why, leading me to serious consideration of writing unlike my own, keeping me fresh in my encounter with the possibilities of writing. It also forces me to be part of the conversation, to engage with the world of writing, and for someone who lives a fairly isolated life, that engagement is essential. And finally, it’s a kind of compact: if I want my published writing to be reviewed–and I certainly do–it’s right that I review others.
CC: Thanks for your time and wisdom, Floyd. It was an honor.
Floyd would love to join your class or reading group in a discussion of his work. Depending on where you’re located, it may not be possible for him to be present in person, but in that case there are other options. Make an appointment and ask the author himself questions about his work. You can do this live via iChat, Skype, speakerphone or submit questions in advance by e-mail. Visit Floyd’s website to contact him.