Jamie Iredell

recorded in Atlanta, GA

with Blake Butler

 

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Jamie Iredell

My name is Jamie Iredell and I live in Atlanta, Georgia and I came to Atlanta in 2002 when I decided to get my Doctorate in Creative Writing at Georgia State University and I’m still here because my wife lives here. So it’s good for me to live here with my wife.


The Knox Writers’ House

Where are you from originally?


Iredell

I’m from Monterey Bay, California, so I'm from just south of the Bay area. A little town called Prunedale. Prunedale-Kasserville is where I’m from. Two little, small towns in the middle of artichoke fields. And then I lived in Reno, Nevada for ten years. And I did not gamble very much, because 99 cent breakfast is a lot cheaper.


Blake Butler

Than gambling?


Iredell

Yeah.


KWH

Yeah.


Iredell

It’s a lot cheaper. You get a breakfast, sometimes for free, if you gamble a lot.


Butler

Right. Or if you can make money when you gamble, then…


Iredell

Yeah, but if you’re spending all your money drinking, then…


Butler

Oh, yeah, I guess that’s—


Iredell

Which is mostly what we did.


Butler

I’m Blake Butler, I live in Atlanta, Georgia. I was born in Atlanta, Georgia. I will never leave Atlanta, Georgia, apparently, because I own this apartment in this Cotton Milll lofts. I’m stuck here. I’m fine with that. I guess. Yeah. I’ve been here. I went to a high school that was half ghetto and half rich kids, and it was really weird. There were fights every week. This kid named Gary Exline got his ass beat every week, ‘cause he always fucked with the thug kids. I found gary on Myspace recently, I thought he was gonna be dead, but he had a whole photo album on Myspace—I guess I found him when Myspace was still cool


KWH

[Laughs.] When was that?


Butler

I don’t know. Not cool, but extant. But there’s a photo set of him playing Magic with his kids, and he’s a mechanic now, so he’s okay. He has a wife and children, which is good for Gary.


Iredell

Right on, Gary. Live on.


Butler

Go Gary.


Iredell

Yeah.


KWH

What’s it like being a writer in Atlanta?


Iredell

Well, it was kind of lonely, to a certain extent, until I met Blake, really. Yeah, it’s so touching. It was alright, there were lots of other writers that I knew, whom I still know. But I feel like Atlanta has kind of been a stronghold of a certain kind of literature, kind of going back to this beginning of a new South way of looking at Southern literature, like the Flannery O’Connor school. And definitely a place where there was a strong fiction history, but not very much for poetry. And so a lot of the people that I met who were writers were, I don’t know, they were just very serious about things like plot and character development in such a way that it was stifling. So when I met Blake, it was like, Here’s somebody who’s willing to take a lot more risks, and I felt like he and I were similar in that respect, so I think it was the beginning of a good friendship. And that was really great, so it changed things for me in Atlanta, quite a bit.


Butler

Yeah. Yeah, didn't even think about other people in Atlanta doing anything, because they all, they drink beer and they go see shitty bands. I used to like music a lot, and I just started writing. I was at Georgia Tech, studying computer science and shit and I just started writing because I was bored with doing math, even though I was good at it, it just didn't challenge me, so for five or six years, it didn’t even occur to me that A.) I was a writer, and I don’t really feel like a writer, still, I just feel like it’s something I do, but it didn’t occur to me to, like,  talk to anyone else about it, because, just, like, I’m in my room doing this. Then the internet kind of—once I started finding the internet and that other people also felt that way in their town, that they were just making weird things ‘cause they felt like it. Then I was like, Oh, well, there are some cool people that it’s worth talking to. But it still took me a while to find one in our town. Jamie was the first one that—I think Jamie was the first dude I hooked up with off the internet in Atlanta. [Laughs.] In a purely literary sense.


KWH

[Laughs.] He was the first dude you ever hooked up with in Atlanta in a purely literary sense?


Butler

Yeah.


Iredell

Off of the internet.


Butler

Yeah, we’ll keep adding qualifiers until it becomes a normal thing. So it was good, and now we do this reading series called Solar Anus.


Iredell

Pun intended.


Butler

Pun intended. We met each other and founded the Anus.


KWH

What is it?


Butler

It’s a reading series that me and Jamie and our friend Amy McDaniel do and we have basically anyone whose stuff that we enjoy that wants to come to Atlanta can come to Atlanta and we do a reading. We throw a reading and they read and we drink beer. Beep Beep Gallery is this cool gallery that let’s us pretty much have the run of the mill and we have a key and we just throw shit. So, it’s nice. It’s good to have a community that’s kind of other people that are in Atlanta who probably felt like both of us did, like, No one really cares, now are finding people to talk to about it. So it’s been nice, the last couple years or something.


Iredell

There were definitely people who were doing stuff in literature in Atlanta, and I’m glad that all those people are there doing that. One of the things we focus with on Solar Anus is that we almost always have people from out of town coming in to read, and it seemed like—one of the things we talked about with the reading series when we started—it seemed like, for certain people, if they wanted to come to Atlanta, there wasn’t a place they could come read. Unless you’re like, somebody who’s really pretty big, who has—


Butler

Unless you were Brett Easton Ellis


Iredell

Yeah, if you were huge


Butler

Well, Bruce was doing stuff at Emory, but he was like the one other place that was doing anything. You had to have a big name, and even then, people didn’t really come, you know.


Iredell

And there were so many people that were doing amazing things in literature that we knew who wanted to come through town and do stuff and we wanted to offer them that.


Butler

It was like having house shows instead of being in a bookstore.


Iredell

It’s the real poets of Atlanta. Although none of them are from fucking Atlanta.


Butler

[Laughs.] The real poets of Atlanta…


KWH

Yeah, that’s the joke, right? That no one who lives in Atlanta is from Atlanta.


Iredell

Yeah.


Butler

Except for me. And I have a lot of old friends who were…well, I guess suburbs….But it seems like a lot of people I know now that I’ve met in the last five years are definitely not from here.


Iredell

Atlanta’s kind of, in a certain sense, almost kind of like a small L.A. in the sense that, you know, somebody from Sherman Oaks, you talk to them and their like, Oh, I’m from L.A. You know, they’re a far cry from L.A., but who the fuck knows where Sherman Oaks is? It’s easier to say you’re from L.A., if you’re from Cumming, Georgia, you’re like, I’m from Atlanta. But Cumming, Georgia is like an hour away. Cumming is definitely the suburbs, but it’s a long way out from downtown, so. It’s all sprawl.


KWH

Is it personally, for you guys, important to have a writing community? For your writing, is it important?


Butler

For my writing, it’s not important at all, but it’s nice to have someone to hang out with and talk to about it, if I feel like it. The Internet provides enough connection to other people that I don’t care about that. But it’s also cool that I can go hang out with Jamie. I don’t know, I feel like none of my friends even really read, so there’s things you can talk about not even related to what you’re working on. It’s cool to have someone that you can bounce what you’re doing off of, but I think for me it’s better if it’s like, I know he’s read certain things and if I mention things, then there’s no picking up or even complete oddity-making of yourself. You have a kind of common ground without even talking about it.


Iredell

We don’t actually even really read too much of each other’s stuff until it’s completely done. Everything, so far, that we’ve ever read, it’s already been accepted for publication. Except I recently gave him a novel that I haven’t even sent anywhere, to get some feedback from him, but I echo the sentiment about the internet. There’s so many people that I think are really great writers that are friends of ours, and we can just talk to them on Gchat or through email or via htmlgiant, or whatever, that—I have two other friends who I work with as a kind of a quasi-workshop here in town, and that’s really great, I value that because those guys are really great friends of mine, but I think that, along with people from the outside world, it all kind of comes together. If that were to go away, if I were to move to another city, it wouldn’t devastate me, ‘cause I could just hook up with those guys on email, I could hook up with Blake on email.


KWH

Is that kinship important to you as a writer? Having a virtual community?


Iredell

Yeah. I think that’s important. That’s very much important. I mean, like Blake was saying, where you’re just sitting in your room doing this, that’s certainly true.  I work for like ten hours a day, I don’t see humans. My interaction with humans is I go to the grocery store, I run my card through the fucking thing, and they, Debit or Credit, I say, Credit and they say, That’s twenty-nine oh two, I say, Thank you and they say, Have a good day, and that’s it. Until my wife comes home from work, I don’t really talk to other humans. I go jogging in the park and I see other people but they don’t really talk to me. I talk to my wife sometimes about what I’m writing, but I don’t really talk about it, so…Like Blake and I sometimes, if we’re just hanging out, we don’t even really talk about what we’re writing, it’s mostly like what are you reading?


Butler

I like the option.


Iredell

Yeah


Butler

Knowing that I could talk to someone if I wanted to. But I don’t like talking, so I don’t ever do it, but it’s good to know I could if I ever felt like it [laughs]. Which is kind of retarded, but…


Iredell

We usually end up talking about, What are you reading that you really like?


Butler

Or, What tacos are you gonna eat when you drink the rest of that gin?


Iredell

Yeah, yeah, tacos are usually pretty big. I try to get this guy to eat nachos all the time, but we only eat them at the same place, and I’ve taken him to this other place, but he always gets tacos. And I told him the nachos are really good, but he hasn’t had the nachos yet. Motherfucker.


KWH

Motherfucker.


Butler

I love nachos.


KWH

Nachos are great.


Butler

Nachos are my favorite food, in fact.


Iredell

Nachos are really good.


KWH

So what are you guys reading? What’s the answer to that question?


Iredell

I’m reading Don Quixote right now [laughs].


Butler

That’s good. How far along in it are you?


Iredell

Uh, let’s see, I’m on page 22. I’ve only got about 900-someodd to go. I’ve taught excerpts from it, you know, but I’ve never read the whole thing. I’ve taught little excerpts from it, but I know what’s going on in the book. This guy’s mom used to read it to him.


Butler

Yeah, my mom read to me when I was little. Classics. Mark Twain and Dickens and Don Quixote and stuff.


KWH

Is that where you get your ear?


Butler

I think so, yeah. I think my mom definitely had a lot of smart ways to make me interested in things without making me realize that she was doing it.


Iredell

He’s got this great story. Tell about the bag, that’s a great story.


Butler

Oh yeah. The way my mom got me into reading was that she would go to the store and get a bag and there would be twenty books in it, but she wouldn’t let me look in the bag, she would just be like, You can reach your hand in and take a book out and when you’re finished reading that, you can then pick another book. But until then, you won’t know what’s in the bag. So I would want so badly to get the next book that I would read the whole book as fast as I could and sometimes she would talk to me about it before I was allowed to get into the bag. So I would read, like, 30 books as fast as a kid can, basically. And she wasn’t—it was just like, It’s here if you want to.


KWH

Sneaky mom.


Butler

Sneaky mom.


KWH

Does either of your work every venture into the political? Or do you think it’s important, as a writer, to deal with real-world issues, political or social issues?


Iredell

Well, there’s that one book about plastic [laughs].


Butler

[Laughs.] That’s a long story


Iredell

That’s kind of a joke.


Butler

That’s a really long story. Let’s not get into it.


Iredell

It’s about this fucked up reading that happened in Reno, once. But no, that doesn’t really interest me, not really.


Butler

I don’t feel like I can—I feel like talking about dogs will affect politics just as much as talking about war. I don’t really feel like there’s any way to do anything.


Iredell

It’s inevitable that somebody could read something and take something political out of it, but as a writer, I just think of images. I just tend to think of images. Like, Here’s some kind of beautiful or haunting or some kind of image, I don’t know.


Butler

I like politics of psychology rather than politics of America, or something. Making people see things that they don’t want to see or making them hear a way of talking that they wouldn’t have normally heard might change their understanding of how to be a person more than me saying, I’ll have an abortion if I want to motherfucker, you know? I think you gotta change people like—people are stupid, a lot of them, even really smart people, including myself. You gotta trick me into changing my mind. Maybe not even stupid but stubborn. You can trick me into changing my mind by showing me things, or not trying to manipulate me, or manipulating me so good [laughs].


KWH

[Laughs.] Manipulate me so good!


Iredell

That’s like a really bad John Cougar Mellencamp song. You manipulate me so good! Come on baby, manipulate me so good!


Butler

That’s what I’m shooting at, yeah. That’s what I want


Iredell

But I don’t know. I mean, seriously, this ex-girlfriend of mine asked if I would ever write about something that was topical.


KWH

And that’s why she’s an ex-girlfriend?


Iredell

[Holds up Prose. Poems]. She’s in this book. Just read that book and you’ll know, like, Damn good thing he’s married to somebody else. ‘Cause that motherfucker be dead if he didn’t. But I don’t know. I don’t really think in those terms, I guess.


KWH

What is htmlgiant?


Butler

Htmlgiant is a website that we started about three years ago, me and my friend Jean Morgan. It was kind of based out of the idea of knowing that there as this internet community of people that I was interested in and liked following, like so many different online publications that I followed. I was like, I have to follow 30 websites and 30 different people’s blogs to get an idea of this kind of amorphous thing going on and it was like I’d like to have more of one place that talked about a bunch of stuff, and maybe got those people to do it. So that was basically what we did. I asked 15 random people to start writing about things they cared about in the online community of writing and it just kind of kept going. So now it’s like a blog of online literary-ish culture, I guess, that’s based out of connecting a lot of those dots that exist between people.


KWH

What’s going on?


Butler

What’s going on in online culture?


KWH

Or in literature.


Butler

Uh….


Iredell

You just missed it [laughs].


Butler

A lot of people are making really amazing shit, basically. And putting it out by whatever means necessary, and just because they want to. For as much as people boohoo books dying, it’s like, there are books flowing out of my face and I can’t read them all. If there dying, they’re dying on me. Like, on my body.


Iredell

There are literal books flowing out of his face.


Butler

Right. I think the way certain things are dying is awesome because it gives people this no-stakes, make-what-I-want-to-make mindset. And so many people are studying and doing projects like you guys are doing, just putting all these things in the same room, whereas before, ten years ago, you couldn’t put them all in the same room, so people got what they got in their little area, but once you open up these big doors and the stakes are whatever you make them, its kind of like—I feel like things are going to get even more insane for books. I think the book is really young, honestly. The art of language and books goes back a long way, but really, it’s just now starting to do some really innovative—


Iredell

Yeah, it only goes back to Guttenberg, and that ain’t that long.


Butler

Right


Iredell

The book has got at least another 2,000 years before it—


Butler

It’s got as long as people are along, I think.


Iredell

It’s not gonna go away at all.


Butler

Or if it will, it’ll be this new thing.


Iredell

It’s still, no matter what, no matter how sophisticated computers get, the simplest and most effective way to present information is in a book, still. It’s so easy.


Butler

I like your demonstrative thumbing of a book.


KWH

How do you guys think the internet has changed writing, even if the writing is still being presented in books?


Butler

Well, for me, it makes me be able to take in so much information and see things that I wouldn’t have ever seen an watch people who would probably never publish a book talking and trying to say things. And you pick up these things. In the 90s there were all these books coming out that talked a certain way, and even when they were edgy, they were within this certain kind of mindset, so you see this whole onslaught of language that isn’t meant to be codified in a book or put out on a certain level, getting put out. And it infinitely expands what you can—how you can think about talking. And reading people dealing with it on a day to day basis. Reading blogs to me was humongously important. I like books that talk as if they’re not talking for a reason, or something. They’re not so smooshed into what they have to be that they start doing things on their own terms, or something. I’m mumbling now.


Iredell

No, no, that makes sense. The internet did things, like it negates space limitations that you might have in a traditional book or literary magazine. So, if you have a really really long poem—T.S. Eliot would’ve fucking loved the internet. He would’ve been like, Sweet, I’m not limited by, you know, Poetry magazine, in terms of the page length and how much space I can use to print The Waste Land. The whole thing comes at once, and all I have are my section denominations. The internet facilitates things like that. Playfulness, in terms of structure, and style, and not even to mention stuff like what you see on Diagram where they have interactive text, that, I think, is really only a small part of stuff that happened on the internet. Probably what’s a little bit more interesting, I think, is the way that the American voice has changed. And even to say American is too limiting, because so many people are exposed to it throughout the world and people from so many different cultures are using it as a platform. But the voices have changed in such ways that I think it more closely approximates something that you might get on a blog comment feed or a Myspace page feed or a facebook feed. Not the extent of things where you get omg, that bullshit, but people are playing with language and incorporating such things like that.


Butler

The rules are off.


Iredell

Yeah, everything’s kind of opened up. It’s analogous, I think, not to when the printing press was invented, I don’t think it’s analogous to that, but it’s kind of analogous to the first industrial revolution. People are riding around in fucking horse-drawn carts, and then suddenly, you’re able to get on a locomotive and you can go from one town to another, instead of in a full day, you can get there in 20 minutes. With the internet, you can get from point A to point B in less than five seconds and I think the literature reflects that change in space and time.