Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why Stephen Elliott Writes

I recently became aware of an interesting webzine called The Rumpus, edited by Stephen Elliott. Elliott is the author of a number of books, but the one I know the best, "My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up."

Two years ago, while I was living in Brooklyn, I stumbled in on Elliott and Nick Flynn, poet and author of "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City," giving a reading together at the Strand. I had come to see Flynn, whose poetry I still like a lot, but it was Elliott who made the stronger impression with his semi-fictional accounts of an abusive ex-lover from "Girlfriend."

More recently, Elliott has posted an essay on his webzine called, "Why I Write." It is worth checking out: among other things, it details his abusive childhood and time spent in youth homes and mental hospitals, and the unorthodox route he took to becoming a published author.

Most interestingly for me, though, are the parts of the essay that address writers and money. Elliott is one of those rare novelists who is able to make a living off his art--at the age of 37, he has published something like seven books, many of them critically acclaimed--and yet he makes only about $30,000 a year and shares his rent-controlled San Francisco apartment with a "young hipster roommate."

Elliott's final thought?

"We're lucky to be writers. Nobody owes us anything."

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