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Sasha Frere-Jones and Maggie Nelson discuss writing and form


In the LA Times, former New Yorker music writer Sasha Frere-Jones chats with Maggie Nelson, whose most recent book, The Argonauts, has brought her much-deserved critical and popular acclaim. As a result, Graywolf Press is republishing her 2007 book The Red Parts, a memoir about he court trial of the man accused of murdering her aunt. Below she discuss the formal dimensions of The Red Parts:

SF-J: “The Red Parts” is not nearly as formal unpredictable as “Bluets” and “The Argonauts,” which both needle drop on various theories and narrative strategies. “The Argonauts” even uses a bespoke footnote system (which defeats ebook versions). But maybe there is an experimental aspect to “The Red Parts” that I’m missing?

MN: “The Red Parts” is an experiment with long form narrative-ish prose. Whatever détournements it makes are folded into a very spare, straightforward seeming idiom and form. That was part of its experiment, and part of the reason why Peter Handke’s deceptively simple “A Sorrow Beyond Dreams” was such a model for me.

SF-J: “The Red Parts” was initially subtitled “A Memoir,” but you changed it to “Autobiography of a Trial.”

MN: Yeah, I’m interested in the kind of life-writing that’s inexhaustible, i.e., that has little to do with the “summing up” typically indicated by the word “memoir.” Also, since the book contains elements of my childhood, I see why it’s “memoiristic,” but since much of it is also a fairly straight-ahead documentary account of a courtroom trial, along with a meditation on criminal justice, misogyny, and more, it’s more of a nonfiction mash-up than any one autobiographical thing. So I thought “autobiography of a trial” seemed a truer description. Plus the latter subtitle pays light homage to Anne Carson’s “Autobiography of Red,” a brilliant book which has nothing to do with this book on the surface, but she’s in there, that book is in there, nonetheless.

Image of Maggie Nelson via LA Times.