Lawrence Sutin

recorded in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

 

Agnes by Mary Ruefle

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Lawrence Sutin

Hi my name is Lawrence Sutin and live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was actually born in St. Paul Minnesota, which is right across the Mississippi River, and after seven years there I grew up in St. Louis Park, MN. But then, in case you’re wondering whether I ever left this state: I did! And for much of the subsequent ten, fifteen years of my life, I travelled and lived in various spots in the country and even abroad. But I came back to Minnesota in my late twenties and I have, with the exception of some travel, lived here ever since. It’s a comfortable place to live. The summers are hot and sticky which is good for writing and the winters are cold and horrible, which is also good for writing. It’s an ideal artistic environment.


The Knox Writers’ House

Do you consider yourself a Midwest Writer?


Sutin

Well, you know, there’s no good way to answer that question because if I say I do, I’d be lying, and if I say I don’t, then I sound like I’m pissing on the Midwest. So let me just say that since I grew up—not to be too melodramatic—but since I grew up in a house with Jewish Immigrants—Holocaust survivors—who came from Poland and spoke Yiddish in the household—and I grew up with a very distinctive, you might say, family culture. So I feel partly Midwestern, and partly a whole bunch of other things. I frankly, I guess I’d have to say in my heart of hearts I tend to feel I have more in common with East Coast people—and not just Jews! East Coast people—than I do with Midwestern people. I’m a little more high strung, I’m a little more animated than your typical Midwestern person tends to be. But I’ve also lived here long enough so that I’m pretty Midwestern too. I mean, I like to just, you know, sit on a deck and drink a beer and listen to the ball game. I’m a big Twins fan, I like walking around the lakes, I love the north woods of Minnesota, it's one of my favorite places on earth, I love the beautiful lakes and the smell of the pine forest, so, really, if you ask me if I’m Midwestern, I like to think of myself as a Northern Minnesotan at heart—that’s the part of Minnesota that I love best. That’s a long answer.


KWH

No, no, no, it’s a great answer.


Sutin

Alright.


KWH

Do you connect with a writing community here?


Sutin

Well, I connect with the writing community because—how shall I say it—I’ve gotten to know them, because I teach, you know, I get out in the world, so we know each other, but I don’t feel that—You know, there are some writers here who really kind of network intensively within the Twin Cities and I don’t do that anymore, but you know, also, really, I’m 58 now, you know. My period of networking was in my thirties really. I don’t really need to network anymore. I’m not trying to make myself a fossil, but I kind of have my work and I write so I don’t really bounce out of the house looking for the scene anymore. But I don’t think that my writing really strikes other people as particularly Minnesotan.

KWH

Do you think there is a distinct Midwestern voice?


Sutin

I’d have to say...


KWH

That you’re not a part of?


Sutin

I don’t know if I would call it distinct, but yeah, I know it when I read it and I see it. There are certain voices. And I’ve worked with writers who are really trying to cultivate that Midwestern voice for themselves. I think Robert Bly, in a lot of his poetry has that, Patricia Hempl, as I mentioned, I think has that, I think, well, I’m not familiar enough with the poetry scene these days but there are a number of people who definitely are going for that. So, yeah, I think there’s something that people—I think what really distinguishes Midwestern writing as it’s commonly defined is a real desire to portray the particular culture, people, and setting of the Midwest. I don’t think I have that. My characters tend to be cosmopolitan and travelers and feel more uprooted. So since I don’t have the Midwestern—even though I’ve lived here most of my life—psychology of whatever, being what it is, I don’t...No, I never think of myself as a Midwestern writer. It just doesn’t fit at all. I think of myself as a writer who lives in the Midwest. I don’t think of myself as a writer of any particular region. Sarabande Books, which published my novel told me they thought I read like an East European, which makes some sense to me. You know, parents, and I’ve always been fascinated by Russian Literature and the literature of Eastern Europe in general, particularly it’s more surreal and convoluted aspects—and Kafka would be the forbearer of so much of that. So yeah, I guess really, you know, who are the writers of my ancestors—they’re kind of there. So that’s what happens when you have—I think my family culture outdistanced my regional culture, at least in how it stayed in me. But I don’t want to sound not-Midwestern either, I just don’t see it as something that even pertains to me particularly.


KWH

That’s a great segue into another question we wanted to ask you: do you think place or landscape has a lot to do with your writing?


Sutin

No.

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