The Cupboard Interview with Nick White
A native of Mississippi, Nick White is the author of the novel How to Survive a Summer (Blue Rider/Penguin, 2017). He is an Assistant Professor of English at The Ohio State University's MFA Program in Creative Writing. His short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in a variety of places, including The Kenyon Review, Guernica, The Hopkins Review, Indiana Review, The Literary Review, Lit Hub, and elsewhere. His short story collection, Sweet & Low, was published in June 2018 (Blue Rider/Penguin).
At long last, you have returned to The Cupboard! Catch us all up: What is your history with The Cupboard? Why are you keen to judge this contest?
I worked on The Cupboard for three years, while I was finishing my Ph.D. I did the final proofs before they were sent to be printed, and so I got to see all the wonderful books y’all were doing before they came to print. I loved how the writing challenged genre and form, how art and prose interacted with each other on the page. It was revelatory each time I went to read it. So I am back for selfish reasons—I miss being surprised, alarmed, thrilled by what these artists can/will do.
What excites you about prose writing?
I am excited by prose that casts a spell, that is unruly, that doesn’t give a shit what I want and cares too much about what it needs to convey to me. I enjoy those moments of reading when you forget that you are reading, the words disappear and you feel like the artist is communing directly through your brain stem.
Who are your literary favorites? How did their writings earn your love?
Right now, I think two of the best writers out there are Jesmyn Ward and Marlon James. I am a Ward completist – and will be teaching her novel, Salvage the Bones – next semester, but each time I read her, I am reminded of what words can do, what they should do. Her sentences are gems that should be held to the light and examined for their beauty and magic. I am in the middle of James’ Black Leopard Red Wolf and it is BLOWING MY FREAKING MIND. It is so queer, so violent, so deliciously wicked and brutal: I am just so in love with this book. Also, a favorite of mine, too, interestingly enough, is Anne Tyler: if anyone wants to know what to write about love and family and what we owe to each other without sentimentality, then they should read Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and Saint Maybe by her.
Your own writing often focuses on issues of personal identity, genealogical histories and inheritances, and the cultivation of vulnerability and empathy—issues that seem especially pertinent in today’s fractious and bewildering political climate. Will you be reading for manuscripts that cover the same ground? Are there other issues that you would like to see addressed in contest submissions?
I will be open to everything. Of course, I love work that focuses on how place and identity shape each other, but really, I want electricity. I want your manuscripts that grab me by the throat and refuse to let me go until they are finished. I love being surprised and dumbfounded, so I imagine that I have no idea what the winning book will look like until I see it, and it sees me.
What advice do you offer those who enter The Cupboard 2019 Annual Contest?
To quote the writer Barry Hannah, thrill me.