Where I Write: With John Reed
Where I Write, a series of short interviews with current students, faculty, and alumni of the Creative Writing Program. It is a discussion of place in writing. What our writing spaces look like can be as varied as the physical spaces that exist (or don’t!) in New York and beyond, and as varied as the mental and psychic spaces we occupy while we write. Dream under the sun in time and space with faculty and incoming director of the New School Graduate Writing Program John Reed.
Where do you write?
By my senior year of college, I’d developed a writing routine. I lived in a modest, lofty space in an old rail warehouse, and worked in the one room at a standing desk. I would need tea, an apple, and sometimes a Gauloise. I grew frustrated by the ritual, which would cut into my writing time, and I started writing in the library, then another library, then etc. I like to feel that I can work anywhere. I take problems with me—sentences, paragraphs—for example, and try to come up with the answer as I go about my day. I started writing sonnets at a very busy time in my life, and I would compose them in my head and write them out when they were pretty much finished. More or less I still do that.
Stand, sit or other?
I sit but I don’t like sitting. Whenever I can, I’ll work with a pad or a tablet, standing or lying around. I use a Hag capisco chair. I do have to exercise or I simply can’t just sit there. I think part of the reason I started working on film projects was that I couldn’t sit around anymore. Through the pandemic I’ve worked at two desks; one more traditional, and one a small upright piano. Sander Hicks, the founder of Soft Skull press, now works in kind of fine wood projects, and I suggested a new business to him: refashioning upright pianos as computer desks. They work really well: the angled surface for the keyboard, the raised surface for the screen, and an empty interior for cords etc. He told me I should run with it, haha.
What is your writing practice?
I generally like to work in the mornings. I can get two big chunks of work done in a day. Sometimes three. When I walk around or I’m semi-sleeping, I’m sometimes working on a sonnet.
Hmm, I do sometimes spiral out of control, and my desk gets messy, but at the end of those times I will take a whole work session, or even several, to just clean up: going through notes and organizing and tearing up paper, and putting things into Trello and Pocket and external drives and various places in digital.
What are your favorite procrastinations?
I’m really in need of some shows I like. Succession is the last show I could watch without fiddling around doing something else. I do listen to podcasts. Mostly true-crime lately but that’s a little against my tastes. The shows are well produced.
We live in interesting times, which book/author keeps you sane/grounded?
Sort of a hard question. For me, maybe, historical research is a grounding factor? Years ago, my once high school art teacher, Michael Rubin, an established artist himself, gave me a portrait of a large group of people. Maybe from the 1920s? There was nothing to say who they were or what they were, but they had the aura of Americans, and maybe creatives. Not particularly wild creatives, but serious and together and working toward something. He said he was giving me the picture because each one of those people had a life.
There are a few historical figures/subjects, TNS-related, that I’d love to find some time to investigate. I started a little bit on Shirley Chisholm, but there’s more there. I’m very curious about Atelier 17. There are some women artists, mid-century and before, mostly adjuncts; I’d love to have some time to see what’s out there. I found a scholar on the subject and we proposed a funded course, but didn’t get it. The New School’s history of photo-journalism is extraordinary, too. And the international campuses over the years …
What is your new skill learned during the shutdowns of the Pandemic
I started bouldering just before the pandemic started, and have kept it up. I wouldn’t say I’ve learned it, but ….
What is your dream writing space?
In my dream, I have time and space. During the pandemic, I worked a little at a desk I carried outside. I do love working under the sun.
John Reed is current faculty and the incoming director of the MFA in Creative Writing at The New School. He’s the author of three novels, one book of poetry, two non-fiction illustrated projects, one project of poetry/theater, and one book of history/narrative non-fiction; published in (selected) Artforum, Art in America, the Believer, the PEN Poetry Series, Gawker, Slate, the Paris Review, the Times Literary Supplement, Vice, The New York Times, Harpers; anthologized in (selected) Best American Essays. More at: easyreeder.com