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Writer Nick Flynn talks crossing genres during Ploughshares event

by Jason Madanjian / Beacon Staff • April 17, 2012

Britney Spears is author Nick Flynn’s greatest inspiration — or so he joked during an event sponsored by Ploughshares, an award-winning literary magazine based at Emerson since 1989, during Emerson’s Communication Week.

Fifty-three people filed into the Charles Beard Room in the Little Building April 4 to hear Flynn’s sarcastic wit and to offer the writer a hodgepodge of questions. Later that evening, Flynn read from his work.

Flynn is the author of the poetry books Some Ether: Poems and The Captain Asks For A Show Of Hands. His memoir Another Bullshit Night In Suck City was recently adapted into the film, Being Flynn, starring Robert De Niro. Ploughshares is published three times a year and features poetry, fiction, essays, and memoirs. For each issue, the magazine invites a prominent writer to act as guest editor to explore the personal visions and aesthetics for their issue. Flynn took the role for the 2012 spring issue.
  
Flynn, with dark, messy hair and a striped collared shirt, slumped into an olive green leather chair, fielding several questions about his writing style. He explained that writing is a very intimate and complicated form of artistic expression that requires a varying amount of time from person to person.

“It usually takes a while to write books. A lot of my poems never make it in,” said Flynn bluntly about his rigorous writing process. “I like to spend a couple of years not worried about what it’s going to be.”

Graduate student Luke Jones said he appreciated the event’s intimacy.  

“It’s nice to see that [the audience] had a nice human interaction with him,” said the writing, literature, and publishing major. “Before coming to Emerson, I really hadn’t had much interaction with the arts before.”

Mostly questions centered around Flynn and his relationship with his father, a subject that Flynn tackled in Suck City. Both the memoir and the film adaptation center around Flynn (then 27 years old) accidental run-in with his estranged father while volunteering at a homeless shelter in Boston.

“I needed 10 years to write that memoir,” said Flynn when talking about the emotional journey of opening up such a personal life story.  “First I made a documentary film about him, and now to have a film where De Niro plays my dad is surreal.”

Flynn says he was on set for the film every day, relishing a chance to work with another genre. Flynn says he is fascinated by collaboration, which is why he is currently working on an experimental opera, with a composer friend.

Anticipating groans from the audience, Flynn was quick to defend the partnership.

“Collaboration awakens the creativity in all of us,” said Flynn. “I enjoy trying new things.”