Meet the Editors: Nick White, Incoming Fiction Editor

One thing I’m going to endeavor to do in this space is to introduce you to some of the other drifters here at The Journal, especially our genre editors. Joining us for an interview today is Nick White, our incoming fiction editor who will start shaping the pages we dedicate to the liar’s art in our magazine in the fall.

ML: Just to tie this up with my last post, let’s say the Pulitzer Board called you one evening a month or so ago. “Nick,” the head of the board says, “Listen, we’re completely lost on this whole fiction thing. Don’t worry about who the finalists were. What should we pick?” What would you tell our distressed friend?

NW: It’s been a great year for fiction, so I think the decision to not award a prize can be a bit misleading. For my money, I was hoping Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision might be considered. Her collection has already won the National Book Critics’ Circle Award and was nominated for the National Book Award. I think she’s a wonderful American voice. Her stories seem to be about the very things critics say American writers shy away from. There’s been talk for a long time that American writers are too insular, that our stories and novels are too provincial. Ms. Pearlman’s stories are anything but. For instance, her story “Vaquita” centers around a female prime minister of a South American country embroiled in a revolution of sorts. The story was brilliant and sad and very different from some of the writing I am seeing from others. Winning the Pulitzer, I think, would have brought her more readers. Also, I really enjoyed Julie Otsuka’s novella The Buddha in the Attic, a searing portrait of Japanese picture brides who come to the United States soon after the turn of the century and endure hardship, racism, and sexism up until the time they are sent away, with their husbands and children, to concentration camps in California after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was told from a first-person plural point of view—the “we” voice—and I thought it was really well done; parts of it read like poetry.

ML: Well, staying in the vein, who’s your favorite living author who doesn’t write in the king’s?

NW: Probably Marquez, if I had to choose. One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my all-time favorite novels: the scope, the language! It’s a beautiful read. Also, enjoyed Love in the Time of Cholera, a decadent romance that didn’t translate so well to the big screen. I am also a fan of his short fiction and plan to teach “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” to my creative writing class this summer.

ML: So what’s on your nightstand now?

NW: I’m reading four books at once. It’s kind of crazy. I have a problem, I think. I’m reading Roth’s The Human Stain, because I think his Zuckerman novels will help me with my thesis, which also deals with a writer. Though I hadn’t read much by her, I am just finishing up Anne Tyler’s The Amateur Marriage, which, sentence by sentence, has blown me away. I’m also about halfway through Tobias Wolff’s Old School. And I’m mixing it up a bit by reading a biography of Eudora Welty. Reading about her love life gives me hope.

ML: I know you worked with Michael Kardos on Jabberwock Review. What were some lessons you took from that experience?

NW: One thing I took from Mike, just in general, is the idea of being an open-minded reader, and to not impose my own aesthetic onto a story. So when I approach a story, as difficult as it may be, I try to look at it and let it tell me what its goals are and see if the story is meeting the goals it’s set for itself. Jane Smiley has this wonderful book called Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, and she says she doesn’t think of fiction as good or bad, but looks at it in terms of the worlds it invites you into, and whether or not it’s successful at rendering those worlds. So I’ve learned not to be closed off to a particular style, whether it be hard-nosed realism or something more speculative. For the issues of The Journal that we’re going to try to craft I want it to be very diverse.

ML: If you have one, what’s your editorial creed?

NW: Martin Luther, and this is going way back, said to sin boldly, and if I have one creed it’s that I want the stories I read to sin boldly. To have a confident voice, to not be apologetic, but to be bold. I want strong voices.

ML: What’s coming out of your pen these days?

NW: I’m working on a cycle of stories about a Southern writer from the Mississippi Delta, down and out on his luck. I’m working on one of them now about his time as a librarian in Oxford, MS. That place has a very specific writer culture that I am trying to capture.

ML: Is that a locale where you’ve spent a lot of time?

NW: Well, I have a complicated relationship with Oxford because I earned my Master’s from Mississippi State, which is the arch-rival of Ole Miss. But some of the grad students and I would always go up to Oxford to use their library—they have a wonderful facility. It’s such a literary town, too, and when you think of Mississippi in the zeitgeist you don’t necessarily think of it as being literary, which is a shame, but Oxford has a certain panache to it because they have Faulkner’s home and he’s buried there, and it was also the home of Barry Hannah—the great Southern writer—before he passed. It’s a place that inspired me, as I’m sure it did many writers from that region. Authors always stop by to promote their books because there’s a great bookstore there called Square Books. The story I’m writing now deals with a bookstore too, though only in a minor way—it becomes the backdrop for a disastrous love affair my narrator becomes entangled in.

ML: Setting aside the fact that we want our readers to go through our issues cover to cover, if you had to choose one thing our loyal subscribers should read from the most recent print issue, what would it be?

NW: “Abu Grave.” I love that story. I found it in the slush and thought it was just hilarious—it was really funny in a horrific way. Also the novel selection “Out of Illiana” was great. One of our readers, Brett Beach, found us that gem.

ML: In this past year, 2011, who was the best new writer you discovered?

NW: New to me or new to the scene?

ML: Either or.

NW: New to the scene would probably be Kevin Wilson, who wrote The Family Fang. New to me, I would say Edith Pearlman. She had three books out by small presses, but she’s new to me and she just blew me away. Also, Ethan Rutherford. He doesn’t have a collection out, but I’ve read a couple stories by him now: “Summer Boys,” which was put out by One Story, and “The Peripatetic Coffin” which was in The Best American Short Stories 2009. He writes really interesting work that is just very different from anything else.

ML: All right, to take it home, what are you doing for the summer, and what are you planning on reading?

NW: I’m teaching that creative writing class, where we’re going to be reading a lot of speculative fiction. I’ll also be making my way through Phillip Roth, and some more Ann Tyler. Probably the next thing I’ll read will be Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Maybe some more Jane Smiley too, I met her at AWP and she was just wonderful.

I want to thank Nick for sitting down with me. We’ll all be seeing him in the pages of The Journal next fall. Until then.

Michael Larson was born and raised on a horse farm in the small town of Rainier, Washington. He earned his B.A. from Dartmouth College, before moving to Mutsu, Japan, where he lived and worked as a middle-school English teacher for two years. He is currently in the Creative Writing MFA Program at The Ohio State University, and serves as online editor for The Journal.