Jonathan Lethem on Reading, Writing, and Concepts of Originality

Brian Gresko in Agni:

ScreenHunter_08 Dec. 11 18.57Jonathan Lethem is the author of eight novels, including Motherless Brooklyn (1999), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Fortress of Solitude (2003), a New York Times Bestseller. His native Brooklyn serves as the setting for both of those acclaimed novels. Recent work has found him exploring Los Angeles in You Don’t Love Me Yet (2007) and New York City’s Upper East Side in Chronic City (2009). That book, along with much of Lethem’s oeuvre, is influenced by the work of Philip K. Dick, whose novels Lethem edited for The Library of America. In addition to fiction, Lethem’s essays on music, literature, and culture have appeared in publications such as Harper’s and Rolling Stone. Last year he published a critical look at John Carpenter’s science fiction film They Live; a study on the Talking Heads album Fear of Music is forthcoming. Lethem teaches creative writing at Pomona College, in California, but I had the opportunity to speak with him at his studio in Brooklyn.

Brian Gresko: Do you have models in mind when you begin a project? By models I mean works that influence your writing.

Jonathan Lethem: I’ve always been a consciously influenced writer. I usually have some models in mind for anything I’m writing, whether it’s other novels, or some films, or sometimes even a comic book. In terms of prose style, I am almost always open to writing some degree of homage, or trying to adopt or import a part of another writer’s style into what I’m doing. Usually it’s more than one author, and/or it’s in combination with some radically different influence on the narrative strategy, or on the kind of motifs, characters, or situations that I’m writing about. I never think that this is going to simply seem like writer X, because I’m always colliding that influence with a number of other elements.

More here.