Each summer, Oxford University Press USA and Bryant Park in New York City partner for their summer reading series Word for Word Book Club. The Bryant Park Reading Room offers free copies of book club selections while supply lasts, compliments of Oxford University Press, and guest speakers lead the group in discussion. On Tuesday 13 August 2013, writer Wayne Koestenbaum leads a discussion on The Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka.
What was your inspiration for this book?
I chose Kafka’s Metamorphosis because he writes about punishment—and the sensation of always already being punished (even if punishment is not actually on the horizon)—with the greatest wit and acuity of any writer in history.
Where do you do your best writing?
Either in a café, a train, an airplane, or at my desk in my apartment.
Which author do you wish had been your 7th grade English teacher?
I actually liked my 7th grade English teacher! I wrote a play for him; it included a transsexual. But my runner-up English teacher, my dream-cast English teacher, would be Robert Walser, author of the divine Jacob von Gunten.
What is your secret talent?
I love to sleep.
What is your favorite book?
The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara.
Who reads your first draft?
I read it. No one else. Ever.
Do you prefer writing on a computer or longhand?
I like both. At the moment, I’m writing a very long poem longhand, in notebooks. But most of the essays that appear in my newest book, My 1980s & Other Essays, I wrote on a computer or on a typewriter. (Yes, a typewriter!)
What book are you currently reading? (Old school or e-Reader?)
Brandon Downing’s Mellow Actions, a book of poems published by Fence Books, one of my favorite independent presses.
What word or punctuation mark are you most guilty of overusing?
These days I love the word “interstitial.” I overuse it.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
A lost cause.
Did you have an “a-ha!” moment that made you want to be a writer?
When I read D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, and I realized that emotional ambivalence was a fact of life, and the motivation for literature.
Do you read your books after they’ve been published?
I glance at them. I read random passages from them. Sometimes with satisfaction. Sometimes with shame.
Wayne Koestenbaum has published six books of poetry: Blue Stranger with Mosaic Background, Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films, Model Homes, The Milk of Inquiry, Rhapsodies of a Repeat Offender, and Ode to Anna Moffo and Other Poems. He has also published a novel, Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes, and eight books of nonfiction: The Anatomy of Harpo Marx, Humiliation, Hotel Theory, Andy Warhol, Cleavage, Jackie Under My Skin, The Queen’s Throat (a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist), and Double Talk. His next book, My 1980s & Other Essays, is forthcoming in August 2013 from FSG. Koestenbaum is a Distinguished Professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center. His first solo exhibition of paintings was at White Columns gallery in New York in Fall 2012.
For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter and Facebook. Read previous interviews with Word for Word Book Club guest speakers.