David Vann — Live Q and A — March 23rd

Photo by permission of Ulf Andersen © ulfandersen.photoshelter.com


David Vann, the prize-winning author of Legend of a Suicide and Caribou Island, will be joining us for our next Question and Answer session on

Wednesday 23rd March at 10 p.m. UK time.


David Vann’s short stories have been published in Atlantic Monthly, Writer’s Digest, and The Sunday Times, and his work has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  In 2010, his story ‘It’s Not Yours’ was shortlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award.


Vann has taught Creative Writing at Stanford University, Cornell University, and San Francisco State University. He is currently an Associate Professor at the University of San Francisco and Visiting Professor at Victoria University of Wellington, in New Zealand, from where he will be joining us.


What the reviewers say

Transfixing and unflinching … full of finely realized moments … Comparison with Cormac McCarthy is fully justified.”—Times Literary Supplement (UK)

David Vann’s extraordinary and inventive set of fictional variations on his father’s death will surely become an American classic.” — The Times Literary Supplement, Books of the Year 2009

His legend is at once the truest memoir and the purest fiction…Nothing quite like this book has been written before.” — The London Observer


Read the following stories online:




Listen to David Vann read ‘It’s Not Yours’


Times in other locations are as follows:

23rd March

2 p.m.  Alaska Time
3 p.m. Pacific Time
4 p.m. Mountain Time
5 p.m. Central Time
6 p.m. Eastern Time
7 p.m. Atlantic Time

24th March

Midnight South Africa
6 a.m. AWST
8 a.m. AEST
8:30 a.m. ACDT
9 a.m. AEDT

11 a.m. New Zealand


All registered members are invited to take part in the Live Q&A session.

Those unable to attend, are welcome to submit questions in advance, by contacting the administrator at thresholds@chi.ac.uk, or by using the comment boxes below the post.

To participate in this event, you need to be logged in.


Tips and Hints for helping the session to run smoothly:

1)   Please submit individual questions using the Comments Box, below.

2)  Use your REFRESH button occasionally throughout the session.


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85 Responses to "David Vann — Live Q and A — March 23rd"

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  • Loree Westron 11:02 PM 23/3/2011

    Lucy Boyce has written in with a question. She asks: Hanif Kureishi, in his essay ‘Something Given: Reflections of Writing’, talks of writing as an active way of taking possession of the world, a way of processing and ordering what seemed like chaos. Do you feel this is true of your own desire to write?

  • David Vann 11:05 PM 23/3/2011

    I think the quote from Hanif is perfect. I think writing does exactly that, except that I would emphasize that the taking control happens in an out of control way, unconsciously.

  • Tania Hershman 11:05 PM 23/3/2011

    Hi David, how are you? It was me in this hot-seat last month! Just wanted to ask, since we recently met up when you were doing a reading, how do the book tour and all the other aspects of being a published author interfere or enhance your writing life?

  • David Vann 11:08 PM 23/3/2011

    Hi Tania,
    I love all the touring and interviews. The books are coming out in 16 languages now, and with each new launch, I feel like I get a new life along with the book’s new life…

  • David Vann 11:10 PM 23/3/2011

    At the moment, I am finding it a bit tough to revise a novel while I teach and tour and do interviews, but it’s been a thrill, all of it, and I think the key is to just let publicists know that for the most part the mornings have to be reserved for writing.

  • Katherine Orr 11:11 PM 23/3/2011

    Hi David — This kind of follows on from my first question — have you ever had to wrangle with research for your writing, or is it something you mostly keep clear of? By research I don’t mean academic/critical, but more the sort of background preparation that you might turn to for writing about Anglo-Saxon England …

  • David Vann 11:11 PM 23/3/2011

    The best part about the tours are the festivals, by the way, and meeting other authors there, such as you and Colm Toibin and Hanif Kureishi, Byatt, Hornby, etc. That’s been fantastic.

  • Sean Martin 11:12 PM 23/3/2011

    Just reposting this David in case it didn’t show up at your end:

    In A Mile Down, was the decision to use more conventional formatting — e.g. inverted commas for the speech, a more direect, conversational voice — your decision or your publisher’s?

    And has Seref ever read it? Your portrayal of him is memorable — he comes across as a decent guy in his own way, despite the major problems he caused you.

  • David Vann 11:13 PM 23/3/2011

    I have a nonfiction book about a school shooting coming out in October (being published only in the US, again a contest, again something that my agents didn’t think could sell), and I did a lot of research for that, 3 months of interviews and was lucky to be the only one to gain access to the full 1500 page police file with all the shooter’s emails, mental health history, etc…

  • David Vann 11:15 PM 23/3/2011

    But generally I don’t research fiction. I did spend two weeks in Alaska summer of 09 to check things for Caribou. So I do fact-checking. But I love that fiction can take off on its own and doesn’t have to come from research. I am impressed by writers who do historical research, and I may still write that one in Anglo-Saxon England. I’ve already read a lot of that history and studied the language, but I’d no doubt need to do more research.

  • Dave Swann 11:16 PM 23/3/2011

    Hi David, I wanted to thank you for a great reading in the draughty barn in Sussex, England, last September. I was gripped again by stories that I already loved! I just wondered whether you had anything to say about the ‘page’ as against the ‘stage’? In other words, what would be your advice to writers about reading their work in public? Thank you

  • David Vann 11:16 PM 23/3/2011

    Thanks, Sean. I did really like Seref, and I don’t know whether he’s read it. He wanted an extra $90,000 in ‘tip’ for the boat, so we had a falling out…

  • David Vann 11:17 PM 23/3/2011

    And the editing conventions in A Mile Down I think fit for nonfiction. I use quotes in my nonfiction but not in my fiction.

  • Alison MacLeod 11:19 PM 23/3/2011

    Hi David,
    It’s a treat to have you here. What are some of your favourite stories, old or new, that ‘break the rules’?

  • David Vann 11:19 PM 23/3/2011

    Hi Dave,
    That reading was fun, and I loved the Small Wonder Festival. Diana’s great, too. I’m not sure I have advice, except to enjoy it. I love being on stage, and I would spend a lot more time there if anyone would let me. I was a ham even when I was four. So I always have a great time. And I think it’s important not to ever prepare. That way the discussions remain fresh.

  • David Vann 11:21 PM 23/3/2011

    Hi Alison,
    It was fun meeting you at that festival, too.
    Diaz’ “Drown” has the crises in the past event, instead of keeping the dramatic story in the present.
    Wolff’s “The Liar” is half background material, which is supposed to bog a story down (he makes us think we read scenes, even though we read narration organized as an essay)…

  • David Vann 11:22 PM 23/3/2011

    Jones’ “The Pugilist At Rest” includes art history essay, showing that you can draw from other genres and blend forms. Those are a couple quick examples. The rule you can’t break, I think, is that every story has to be at least two stories. If there’s no subtext, nothing else we’re reading for beyond the occasion or surface story, we stop reading.

  • dora 11:23 PM 23/3/2011

    I have to give you a lot of credit for sticking to your guns and writing what feels true to you. I’ve spent over 30 years trying not to write what I was meant to write so thank you for your honesty. It takes a lot of courage, courage that I need plenty doses of… Thanks again and I can’t wait to read your book.

  • David Vann 11:24 PM 23/3/2011

    Thanks, Dora. You have to be ready to piss everybody off and lose everybody. If my new novel gets published, I honestly believe I’ll lose my mother (I’m not just saying that), and I’m willing to do that. The writing can’t have anything in the way, otherwise it’s worthless.

  • Dave Swann 11:26 PM 23/3/2011

    I apologise if I’m entering these comments out of sequence — I’ve got carrots rather than fingers! My other Q was about ‘wilderness’ stuff. I love the way you load the natural dangers on the characters in ‘Legend’. That little bit of menace which Carver identified as essential to short fiction is there in abundance. I’m envious of the way in which North American writers can draw on this resource of the wilderness, particularly in Alaska — it ups the stakes. In England, we have to do quite a lot to make the squirrels seem menacing! I just wondered how you think wilderness works in your imagination. Is it something that already excites before you sit down to write? In ways do you think wilderness can enrich a piece of writing?

  • David Vann 11:27 PM 23/3/2011

    I love reading and writing wilderness. The literal landscape extends into figurative landscape which is how we learn theme, inside life of characters, etc. And you don’t need true wilderness. My new novel is set mostly in a walnut orchard which is a wilderness. That works too.

  • David Vann 11:27 PM 23/3/2011

    It is nice to have the wide-open desolation of Alaska, though. I admit that’s a wonderful cheat.

  • David Vann 11:27 PM 23/3/2011

    In writing Caribou Island, I just kept returning to describing the place, and that was my way through the book, keeping in mind, also, of course, the conflict between the characters.

  • Loree Westron 11:28 PM 23/3/2011

    Right, well, I think that about wraps things up, David. Despite a couple of technical hitches it looks like we made it… Thank you again for joining us tonight/this morning. It’s been…truly exhausting.

  • Alison MacLeod 11:29 PM 23/3/2011

    Many thanks, David, on behalf of us all. A real privilege.

  • David Vann 11:29 PM 23/3/2011

    Thanks, Loree. I enjoyed it. And sorry about thinking earlier that it was just one hour rather than 90 minutes. My mistake. But thank you all, and best of luck in your own writings.

  • David Vann 11:31 PM 23/3/2011

    Night, all.

  • dora 11:55 PM 23/3/2011

    That was truly wonderful and inspiring! Thanks everyone for making it possible.

  • All Lies | THRESHOLDS 07:09 AM 04/4/2011

    […] the unseemly spectacle of writing something where the research is ‘hanging out’. The recent Q & A session with David Vann also covered this issue. As Sarah Duncan puts it in a recent blog post, Research is Fun, But That […]

  • […] out more about David Vann in his live Q&A with […]

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