Garth Greenwell

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Garth Greenwell (born March 19, 1978) is an American poet, author, literary critic, and educator.


  • …There’s a way in which I hope the nine chapters are like spheres of intensity that are placed in a relationship that is not the consequence of plot or the linearity of chronology, but is instead a kind of constellation, that there are charged relationships between them that is like a key change, or a mood, or an echo, or a motif. That may sound pretentious, but I think there’s a place for pretentiousness in art.
  • I really do think of prose as writing sentences. I never think to myself “I’m writing a novel”. Not until I’m very deep into a project do I even think “I’m writing a book”. The kind of sentence I’m attracted to is a kind of navigating device where the sentence itself is moving me through the world and is the tool by which I am able to feel out a territory or a set of concerns.
  • The whole point of art, for me, is to give us tools to explore feelings or situations or dilemmas that defeat our other ways of making meaning. When a situation is so vertiginous, so ethically complex, so emotionally fraught, that I feel like I’m staring into an abyss—that’s when I feel moved to make art, when I feel I need the peculiar tools of fiction to figure out what I think. I mean, to inhabit my bewilderment. I think art is the realm in which we can give full rein to the ambiguity, uncertainty, and doubt that we often feel we have to suppress in other kinds of expression—in our political speech, say. I think an ability to dwell in ambiguity, uncertainty, and doubt is a central virtue of humanness. I think it’s crucial to any thinking that might adequately capture the complexity of reality.
  • …for me the great human virtue is promiscuity, the fact that we love mixture, that we are excited by collisions between cultures, languages, traditions. This is why I’m so disgusted by the rejection of this virtue by nationalists of various stripes—and also why I’m resistant to “stay in your lane” condemnations of “cultural appropriation.” Of course, encounters with the other are fraught with peril and—like any ethically meaningful human endeavor—inherently “problematic.” Of course, we need to be mindful and reverent as we attempt to reach across borders of various kinds. But any attempt to build walls—between bodies, between cultural traditions, between languages and aesthetics—is abhorrent to me.

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