JLF 2019 Interview Series

Andrew Sean Greer
What role do you think awkwardness plays in any literary endeavour?

I like that question, I find them all so awkward! Most writers are awkward, even the famous ones! Because we, by our nature, like to be alone. So we sit in rooms and write and read for hours and hours a day, which makes us very happy to go and have a drink with friends because we’ve had seven hours alone. But these events, where people are watching what we’re doing and interviewing us, then suddenly it’s weird because we’re not made for that. We’re not actors, you know. I think sometimes you catch authors ‘misbehaving’ and they don’t mean to; they’re just trying to be normal. It can look sometimes like snobbishness or irritability but mostly, we’re shy.

Your book is usually described as belonging to the genre of comedy, but it is a narrative mottled with pain. How does one arrive at the intersections of humour and heartbreak?

I think with every book, my biggest struggle is to figure out the right way to tell a story and it takes me forever to figure that out. Sometimes I know right in the beginning if I’m lucky; that I want to tell it in the Victorian style, or as a first-person telling it from the future. Mostly, I don’t get it right. In this one, I think the only way to tell it was a comedy. Although, to me, it’s as serious, in a way, as my other works. I found that by ridiculing the character gently I could get closer to the emotional centre of it. As a writer and as myself, I was feeling really emotional about all the things I was writing about so I couldn’t put it down straight, so to speak, so I got around it through this door.

You came out in 1989, and it’s nearly been thirty years now. Conversations around queer narratives have gained fresh importance in India in light of the Supreme Court judgement that made consensual gay sex legal. ‘Coming out’, however, is something requires immense courage. Could you share a little bit about your experience?

I’m sorry it’s such a struggle. It’s really hard and I wish I could promise you that everything turns out great, but you never know where people are coming from. Depend on your close friends, queer or not. Anyone who feels like an outsider should understand what our lives are like. I had it rela-tively easy because when I came out to my family, later that night my mother came to me and said “I think I’m gay too” and she left my father for a woman. So she and I did coming out together in the 80s! She was in her 40s and now she’s in her 70s. She’s been an out lesbian scientist for all these years which is a much harder journey than mine. So I’ve stood side by side with someone from another generation to go through it.

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