Deborah Eisenberg, Chronicler of American Insanity

Giles Harvey in the New York Times:

It takes Deborah Eisenberg about a year to write a short story. She works at a desk overlooking the gently curving stairwell in her spacious, light-soaked Chelsea apartment. A small painting of a brick wall, suspended from the high ceiling by two slender cables, hangs at eye level in front of the desk, a sardonic reminder of the nature of her task. For Eisenberg, coming up against a brick wall is what writing often feels like. At 72, she has been conducting her siege on the ineffable for more than four decades, and yet the creative process remains almost totally opaque to her. “You work and you work and you work and you work,” she told me recently, her delicate, quavering voice an audible testament to the endless hours of labor. “And for months or years on end, you’re just a total dray horse, and then you finally finish something, and the next day you look at it and you think, How did that get there? What is that? Why were those the things that I seemed to need to say?”

Behind her desk is a wrought-iron daybed on which she takes frequent breaks to read; while she’s in the early stages of working on a new story, two hours of writing a day is usually as much as she can manage. When I asked her what she does with the rest of her time, a puzzled look came across her face, as though she were trying to decipher some hidden message in the ceiling moldings. “It’s hard to say,” she eventually conceded.

More here.