Web Feature

DEB OLIN UNFERTH
in conversation with BENNINGTON REVIEW

 

EMILY BLOHM

Your two flash fictions in Bennington Review share an off-hand, deadpan tone that is really striking. I associate your writing in general with a deadpan sensibility. Do you feel that your tone has stayed constant since you began writing, or has it evolved?

DEB OLIN UNFERTH

I've evolved as a person, that's for sure, since I was twenty-five and began writing. But I can look back at that early writing and still hear my voice, the deadpan humor you refer to, even when I was twenty-five, maybe even more so. Definitely more so. I guess I'm a bit of a smart-ass? I suppose that smart-ass piece of me has stayed in tact no matter what became of the rest of me.

EMILY BLOHM

Reading these new stories, as well as your memoir Revolution, I keep thinking about socio-economic disillusionment. What is your take on the label of "political writer"? Do you believe it is possible for a writer to be truly apolitical?

DEB OLIN UNFERTH

Ah, that's an old question. I think the socio-economic disillusionment you notice is basically me writing about grim jobs I've had, grim scenes I've noted around me, our grim collapsing world. I think the situation is bleak. Maybe that's political. 

EMILY BLOHM

Who are you reading right now, and what is the most memorable moment in a text that you've read recently?

DEB OLIN UNFERTH

Right now I'm reading Heads or Tails by Lilli Carre and The Sellout by Paul Beatty, both great. I recently read the story collection The Burning Plain by Juan Rulfo. There's a Rulfo story about a guy in a bar telling another guy about a horrible town he once lived in. The other guy is about to go live in that town, is on his way there. The first guy starts telling him about how awful the town is. It gets worse and worse. There's no food, the people are mean, the sky is always dark... The escalation is hilarious.

EMILY BLOHM

Does it feel weird to go from writing a flash fiction piece to a longer piece or vice versa? How do you reconcile the structural differences between genres in the greater context of your career as a writer?

DEB OLIN UNFERTH

It's fun to move around and through different kinds of writing. I'm just finishing a graphic novel with the artist Elizabeth Haidle—now that was really different. In everything I've written, I think the trick has always been to see how many words can I delete and still get across the emotion.

EMILY BLOHM

In an interview with BOMB Magazine, you said that you appreciate your favorite writers for their writing, and not for anything particular they did in their personal lives. Is there any point at which a writer's personal life, biography, background, or beliefs should influence the readers' perception of them, if the work in question is not autobiographical?    

DEB OLIN UNFERTH

I'm not sure. My husband is currently teaching a class on Heidegger, who was a great philosopher but also a Nazi. It has disturbed him all semester—should it? 


DEB OLIN UNFERTH is the author of three books, most recently the memoir Revolution. Her work has appeared in Harper’s, The Paris Review, Granta, Tin House, The New York Times, and McSweeney’s. She is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin.


EMILY BLOHM is an editorial assistant at Bennington Review.



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