Q&A with Edmund White

Isthmus | October 6, 2004
Q&A with Edmund White By David Medaris Edmund White

Fanny: A Fiction

Ecco, 384 pages

Fanny marks something of a departure for the novelist (A Boy’s Own Story, The Married Man) and the biographer of Jean Genet and Marcel Proust -- a merging of his inclination toward fiction and biography. Turning to the genre of historical fiction, he crafts a richly imagined memoir of 19th-century utopian feminist and abolitionist Fanny Wright by her contemporary, the social critic Mrs. Frances Trollope. Long a resident of Paris, White now lives in New York City and teaches at Princeton.

David Medaris: Who do you hope will read Fanny, and why?

Edmund White: I suppose my usual mix of literary and gay readers will look at the book, but I'd also like to attract a larger group of women readers with interests in history, social comedy and feminism.

Q: Where and how did you find your inspiration for Fanny?

A: Years ago I read an encyclopedia entry on Frances Wright, a radical and wrongly forgotten figure in American politics. She was against the family, against marriage, against religion and against slavery--a heady combination of positions in the 1820s.

Q: How does one put oneself into the mind and memory of the 76-year-old Mrs. Frances Trollope?

A: By reading lots of her novels and non-fiction books--and by imagining she has something of my own mother in her.

Q: Who or what is your muse?

A: I suppose I often write out of a wish to entertain the great dead, including Proust and Nabokov and Chekhov, all of whom are more vivid to me than the shadowy people I live amongst.

Q: What was the last book you read that you would recommend, and why would you recommend it?

A: Falls by Joyce Carol Oates for its psychological and philosophical depth.

Q: What book from your childhood left the greatest impression on you?

A: The Marble Faun by Hawthorne, maybe because the edition was so beautiful--gold letters stamped onto ivory calfskin and tissue paper guards over the illustrations.

Q: Why do you live where you live?

A: In New York because it is familiar and it plays host to the world.

Q: Which of the five senses do you most rely on?

A: Visual.

Q: What is your favorite meal?

A: Couscous with root vegetables.

Q: What are you afraid of?

A: Old age, sickness and death.

Q: What brings you joy?

A: Music. Sex. Good company.

Q: What is in your CD player?

A: Cecilia Bartoli singing Bel Canto songs.

Q: What is your favorite Web site, and why?

A: Silverdaddies because it's a good place to meet young men who like old men.

Q: Do you have any tattoos?

A: No.


David Medaris is a staff writer at Isthmus, the Madison, Wis., alternative newsweekly.


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