SpeakEasy Blog

Seriously Questioning…Damian Barr

Damian Barr is the author of Maggie & Me, which the Sunday Times named Memoir of the Year. He is Literary Ambassador for the Savoy in London where he hosts his Literary Salon, which has been going for ten years with hundreds of prominent guests including Bret Easton Ellis, John Waters, Colm Tóibín, Jojo Moyes, David Mitchell, and Mary Beard. The Salon has partnered with the BBC Short Story Prize and the Man Booker, Hay, and the Windham-Campbell Prizes. Barr is also Literary Editor of the Soho House group and appears regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and was 2013’s Stonewall Writer of the Year. He lives in Brighton, England. His debut novel You Will Be Safe Here will be published in May.

On May 21, he will be speaking at House of SpeakEasy’s Seriously Entertaining showThe Root of it All, alongside Eve Ensler, Boris Fishman, and Kevin Young.  We spoke to Damian ahead of the show.

What is your earliest memory involving reading or writing?

My Mum had an old Golden Virginia Tobacco tin filled with words written in block capitals on tiny squares of paper. I’d pick a word out and she’d teach me how to say it and tell me what it meant before showing me how to write it down. All the words smelled of sweet tobacco. I could read and write by the time I went to school. Not so many years later my mother suffered a brain hemorrhage and nearly died. She had to learn to walk and talk again and read and write and I got out that old tin and showed her the words she showed me. They smelled just as sweet.

What is your favorite line from your current work?

WHICH IS MY FAVOURITE CHILD? I haven’t thought about this. But maybe ‘In the water, in the dark. It doesn’t matter whose fingers find whose toes. Nobody can see. The tars are saying nothing.’

What is your favorite first line of a novel?

“You better not never tell nobody but G-d.” — Alice Walker, The Color Purple

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read first. Write later.

What writer past or present do you wish you could eat dinner with?

Truman Capote—we’d get so carried away with drinks we’d forget dinner and have to make do with martini garnish.

What writer do you wish you could share with the world?

I am glad Zora Neale Hurston is getting recognition in the UK because Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of the finest novels I have ever read. But I’d like to share Molly Keane—her domain is the anglo-irish country house but her power lies in making us all feel like we stalk the once-grand rooms and their crumbling inhabitants. Her wit should not be mistaken for a lack of seriousness but a catalyst for it.

What are you reading right now?

I’m about to start Out of the Wood by Luke Turner and then I quite fancy Constellations by Sinead Gleeson. I just finished a friend’s manuscript and I wish I could tell you who.

What fictional character do you most closely identify with?

Miss Celie from The Color Purple

If you could live inside a fictional world, which one would you choose?

28 Barbary Lane from Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City novels

Are there any quotes you use to inspire you?

For this novel, I listened to the words of Tayari Jones who was I think, quoting a teacher of hers: ‘Write about people and their problems. Don’t write about problems and their people.’





Seriously Questioning…Andri Snær Magnason

Seriously Questioning…Andri Snær Magnason

Andri Snær Magnason is an Icelandic writer of novels, poetry, plays, short stories, essays and films. His novel LoveStar got a Philip K. Dick Special Citation, the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire in France, and “Novel of the year” in Iceland. The Story of the Blue Planet was the first children’s book to receive the Icelandic… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…E.G. Scott

Elizabeth Keenan and Greg Wands write together as E.G. Scott. Their first novel The Woman Inside came out earlier this year. Keenan is a writer and publishing consultant based in New York City. She has worked in book publishing for eighteen years for imprints of Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, and Macmillan. Wands writes for the page and screen and… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Aatish Taseer

Aatish Taseer is the author of the memoir Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands and three acclaimed novels: The Way Things Were, a finalist for the 2016 Jan Michalski Prize; The Temple-Goers, which was short-listed for the Costa First Novel Award; and Noon; and, a new work of nonfiction, The Twice-Born: Life and… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…John Wray

John Wray is the author of the critically acclaimed novels The Lost Time Accidents, Lowboy, The Right Hand of Sleep, Canaan’s Tongue, and most recently, Godsend. He was named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists in 2007. The recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, he lives in Brooklyn and Mexico… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Nora Krug

Nora Krug is a German-American author and illustrator. Krug is a recipient of fellowships from Fulbright, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Maurice Sendak Foundation, and the German Academic Exchange Service. Her visual memoir Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home, about WWII and her own German family history, was… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s first novel Fruit of the Drunken Tree was an Indie Next selection, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and a New York Times editor’s choice. Her essays and short stories have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Buzzfeed, Nylon, and Guernica, among others. She is the book columnist… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Lea Carpenter

Lea Carpenter is a Contributing Editor at Esquire and has written the screenplay for Mile 22, a film about CIA’s Special Activities Division, directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg and John Malkovich. She is developing her first novel, Eleven Days, for television and her new novel, Red, White, Blue, is out this fall.… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Kathleen Hall Jamieson

Kathleen Hall Jamieson is the Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication of the University of Pennsylvania and Director of its Annenberg Public Policy Center. She is a member of the American Philosophical Society and a Distinguished Scholar of the National Communication Association. She is also a fellow of the American Academy… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Steven Almond

Steve Almond is the author of ten books of fiction and non-fiction, including The New York Times bestsellers Against Football and Candyfreak. His short stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, Best American Erotica, Best American Mysteries, and the Pushcart Prize anthologies. His journalism and essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New York… Continue Reading

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