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Deviant Matters: A. M. Homes and Miranda July

Filed under: The Catbird Seat: Friends & Guests   Tagged: , , , ,

Continuous reports from the 2007 New Yorker Festival, by the Emdashes staff and special guest correspondents.

One of my favorite moments from Friday night’s conversation on deviants between Miranda July and A. M. Homes occurred at the very start. After Homes opened rather seriously by proclaiming that we are all deviants, July squirmed slightly in her chair, turned to Homes seated far across the stage and shyly said, “Um, yeah. I pictured us closer together.” The large audience, generally young and solidly hipster in style, exploded in laughter and, just like that, the tone for the evening was set. Perhaps the physical distance (see photo) partly accounted for the lack of sustained engagement between Homes and July. More likely, it had to do with the two artists’ approaches. While Homes the writer and July the performer never seemed to click entirely, the juxtaposition made for an entertaining evening accented by insights into the unique approaches of each artist.


The fun was no more evident than when July attempted to engage the audience in a trivia contest about Homes’s work. What she thought would be a fun little activity quickly turned humorously awkward. Her first two questions on rather obscure details from Homes’s work were not only met by the audience’s collective silence but also seemed to stump Homes herself. A slightly flummoxed July lightened the mood, timidly saying that she now realized that “no one reads like this unless they’re writing trivia questions.” Homes, who seemed a bit uncomfortable with the whole situation, suggested that the questions should be about July’s more popular film. July asked one final question about a character’s nickname from Homes’s recent memoir, someone thankfully knew the answer was “Dragon Lady,” and order was restored. (The prize? Two well-earned Festival tickets to Saturday’s debate on the Ivy League. )

Oh wait, wasn’t this talk supposed to be about deviants? Despite moderator Carin Besser’s efforts, the conversation weaved in and out of the topic. It turned out to be more of a springboard into some of Homes and July’s fascinating insights into their motivations as artists. Homes spoke about the joy of inhabiting brains other than her own. Beyond sheer pleasure, this act of distancing is actually what enables her to write fiction. She indicated that occupying the mind of a pedophile, as she did in her book The End of Alice, in some sense was easier than simply drawing on personal experience. At the same time, she acknowledged the difficulties of fully stepping outside oneself and spoke of “the inescapability of the artist’s mark.” At one point, after some pauses and false starts, July summarized her artistic intention beautifully, saying she tries to get to the place where mystery is supposed to make sense. She added that, in her work, she is “going beyond getting to have it be correct.”

The evening became even more intriguing when the subject turned to pen pals. Homes and July have each been correspondents with some rather interesting characters. While Homes had communicated with the likes of Pete Townshend and filmmaker John Sayles (who, in one letter, apparently advised the college-aged Homes to suffocate an annoying roommate with a pillow), July maintained a multi-year correspondence with a convicted murderer (July said he will be released in 2012). With her typical sensitivity and humor, she said, “I was lucky, he was a good guy.”

Next year’s panel recommendation: John Sayles on deviants. —Toby Gardner

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2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree