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Thursday, December 1, 2022

James Hannaham By the Book Interview

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One of the many perks of being friends with Jonathan Lethem is that the phrase “book no one else has heard of” completely loses all meaning. But I have a trick up my sleeve. It’s a book that one of my Pratt M.F.A. students, Maria Baker, was writing a few years ago that I don’t think she has finished or gotten published, called “Mortadella With Distractions,” about a couple of Austrian boys who steal a giant sausage. Though it’s quite the madcap adventure, it’s also a canny, witty takedown of bad boy behavior and misogyny. FINISH IT ALREADY, MARIA!!!! IT’S BRILLIANT!!!

I tried to answer this question, but it got really out of control, like an epic shout-out. I have to admit that I have a habit of trying to get to know people whose work I like, not in a stalkery way, but because I come from an artistic family. My mom went to the Fashion Institute of Technology; her brother, Larry Walker, is an accomplished visual artist and former professor. His daughter Kara is indeed that Kara Walker. Kara’s daughter Octavia is a fantastic writer. To name a few. So I can’t help conflating the idea of artistic community with family — my ideal is the Judson Memorial Church. My best friend is the performance maker Clarinda Mac Low, who literally grew up in the Judson Church. I lived and made work with Elevator Repair Service for many years. So I hope it won’t sound lame to say I admire damn near any artist working today given how tough it is, with a special hey-hey-hey to my various communities: my downtown dance/theater cronies, the Village Voice diaspora, my residency homies, my 9Y0 and thereabouts crew (team), my U.T. at Austin M.A. & M.F.A. bitches, my Pratt Department of Writing, Fine Arts and Media Studies dawgz, the NYSSWI gang, my African pen pals, da Blue Chip Art Bunch I met thru Cuzzin K, the posse from your office hours — my Monday night drinking buddies — my novelist and comedy queenz, my former students out there killing it — you know who you are, and I’m living for you. Heart-eyes emoji, heart-eyes emoji, heart-eyes emoji!!! How’s that for an epic shout-out?

The idea that “working on a book” is a totally separate thing from “living one’s life” is maybe the premise I need to destroy there. So yes, I do a lot of reading for research directed at whatever project(s) I’m working on, from pamphlets to novel series, but everything I read during that time can start to have some kind of influence on the work. Advertisements. Street signs. Travel guides. Facebook posts. XXX movie marquees. Memes. I have a total magpie attitude toward art.

Not really, but I don’t let everyone know right off the bat how much I was influenced by “Psychopathia Sexualis.”

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