Oyster River Pages: Who are the writers who have made you who you are?
Paul Negri: Two sets of two writers have had a major influence both on how I think and how I write: Kafka and Beckett; Hemingway and Faulkner. Early on they inspired in me the pursuit of two styles of fiction: surrealist and realist. It seemed to me that one stylistic approach was not adequate to treat the multifaceted, multidimensional nature of the human condition. Hemingway’s pure, direct narrative and description of basic truths and Faulkner’s linguistically rich, psychologically penetrating tales taught me to express myself in everyday terms and through the carefully crafted presentation of ordinary events, i.e., the real world as we experience it daily. But to portray the core of our experiences, the deep heart of what it is to live a life, we need to go beyond the concrete and familiar to a place more fluid and strange, a perspective that illuminates reality while not being tethered to it. For me, no one did this better than Kafka, who I have come to regard as my patron saint. In a similar way, Beckett, through elegant prose and undaunted drama, engaged in the same pursuit. I follow both paths with equal effort and pleasure.
ORP: What are the lenses that shape your worldview?
PN: Such lenses are forged in childhood, when we are most vulnerable, for good or for ill, to the influences that surround us. I was raised Catholic in a working class Italian family. From Catholicism I inherited a sense of guilt and an unquestioning acceptance of the irrational, ideas that early drove in me a rebellion against such attitudes and a wary skepticism of authoritarian systems. My Italian childhood instilled in me an appreciation of family, the critical role of the select group of people we love, and its place in what makes up each of our personal worlds. It is art of all kinds—writing, painting, music, and film—that shape and change my worldview on a continuing basis.
ORP: What’s the most important thing you’ve read/seen lately?
PN: In terms of reading, Clarice Lispector’s The Complete Stories was a wonderful discovery. I had not read her until this year and it’s like discovering a new continent, one I intend to explore for some time to come. Also last year I began to watch the films of Terence Davies and was amazed at what he is able to do with cinematic image and storytelling in works such as The Long Day Closes and Sunset Song.
ORP: What’s your least favorite word?
PN: Smegma. Both its definition and sound are thoroughly off-putting. It’s so unsavory I couldn’t resist using it in a story recently. I am very sensitive to the sound as well as the sense of words.
ORP: What’s your favorite thing that you’ve created? (line, image, story, etc.)
PN: I wrote a line that particularly pleased me in a story called “My Uncle’s Arm”: “Sanity, Mr. Harker, is a skill that improves with practice.” That could be my motto.
ORP: What do you want to read/see more of in the world?
PN: I am devoted to the short story and think we need more of them; perhaps with the ever-accelerating modes of communication and the frenetic pace of our lives, short stories are most suited to capturing and holding our attention.
ORP: How do you pay it forward?
PN: I have been fortunate to study and work in the filed of literature all my life and have found it endlessly rewarding. Over the last several years I have worked with other writers in workshops and have done over a thousand critiques, offering input and encouragement to them. I will continue to do that.
ORP: What is the space that has shaped you the most?
PN: I was raised and lived most of my life in cities and am urban to my core. The city is more than a physical space; it is a state of mind. If I was to be dropped down on an uninhabited island in the Pacific, I would still be a city boy and hear the sound of traffic and feel the rush of humanity.
ORP: You’ve just written your autobiography. What’s the title?
Paul Negri was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He received an M.A. in English from Long Island University in 1970. He worked in publishing for many years, retiring from Dover Publications, Inc., as publisher and president, in 2008. His stories have appeared in The Penn Review, The Vestal Review, Bartleby Snopes, Piff Magazine, Jellyfish Review and other publications. He has twice won the Gold Medal for fiction in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition. He lives in Clifton, NJ. Read his story "The End of the Beginning of the End" from Issue 1.