Friday, 11 June 2010

'WHY I WRITE' by Donald Ray Pollock

‘I found myself, at the age of forty-five, feeling trapped and dissatisfied with a factory job that I’d held for twenty-seven years (I ended up staying thirty-two years). Don’t get me wrong, it was a good job, but I wanted to do something else with the rest of my life.

‘Since I didn’t really know how to do anything except factory work, and maybe because I loved to read, I decided to try to learn how to write, figuring that at least it wouldn’t cost anything other than time and a few reams of paper and a typewriter. Also, being a person who feels somewhat-to-very uncomfortable around groups of people and most “social” situations, writing appealed to me because of its solitary nature.

‘I would like to add that I was extremely naïve when I started. I thought that writing must be fairly easy and that you made a lot of money. Fortunately, by the time those two illusions were smashed, I’d already started to love sitting at the keyboard staring at the wall for hours at a time.’

Donald Ray Pollock is the author of Knockemstiff. A graduate of the MFA program at Ohio State University, he was the winner of the PEN/Robert Bingham Award in 2009. He was recently awarded a grant from the Ohio Arts Council. His work has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Berkeley Fiction Review, PEN/America, Washington Square Review, and Epoch. Visit his website here.

* More about 'Why I Write'.


Of all the questions regularly put to authors by journalists and readers, it seems to me that the most important one is why they bother in the first place.

A number of years ago the French newspaper
Libération published a special supplement in which they asked some of the great writers of the day to express themselves on the subject 'Pourquoi ecrivez-vous?' I remember Samuel Beckett's contribution was by far the most concise, reading in its entirety: 'Bon qu'a ca.', which could be translated as 'Good for nothing else.'

I thought it might be enlightening to ask some of the Roving Editor’s favourite writers to address this question under the heading ‘Why I Write’, after George Orwell’s famous essay on the subject, published in 1946. Orwell’s is an honest, revealing attempt at an answer, but ultimately he admits: ‘All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.’

In dusting off this question and putting it in front of a new set of writers I am not expecting responses as terse or as self-deprecating as those of Orwell and Beckett. However I’d be surprised not to detect some echoes at least of how they felt. So, in what I hope will be the first in occasional series on the blog, I am delighted that Donald Ray Pollock has agreed to tell us ‘Why I Write’. Watch this space.

Thursday, 3 June 2010


The announcement of the New Yorker's '20 under 40' list of fiction writers worth watching has prompted a huge spike in traffic to the Roving Editor. Virtually all of the visitors are searching for one name: Téa Obreht, whose first published work was praised here almost a year ago. I'm delighted for Téa, whose debut novel, The Tiger's Wife, is due in March 2011.

In addition to the original post, I recommend you sample Téa's story 'The Laugh' and this interview, both published in the Atlantic magazine's 2009 fiction issue.

Congratulations also to three other writers on the New Yorker's list whose work has been featured in the Roving Editor: Wells Tower, Joshua Ferris and Yiyun Li.