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"The Nomad You Always Wanted to Be": An Interview with Nicholas Bredie

Nicholas Bredie is the author of Not Constantinople (Dzanc), recognized by The Morning News as one of the best books of 2017. With Joanna Howard he is the translator of Frédéric Boyer’s Cows (Noemi Press 2014). His writing has appeared in Guernica, The Fairy Tale Review, The Believer, Electric Literature, Puerto del Sol and elsewhere. He lives with the writer Nora Lange.

His story, "The Boy in the Animal Enclosure," appeared in Issue Ninety-Eight of The Collagist. 

Here, Nicholas Bredie talks with interviewer William Hoffacker about tiny houses, Harambe the gorilla, and visiting Ojai in 2016.

Please tell us about the origins of your story “The Boy in the Animal Enclosure.” What inspired you to begin writing the first draft?

It was the Netflix documentary about tiny houses. As I watched it, I felt “I could do this” even “I should do this.” Live small, live free, be the nomad you always wanted to be, etc. But as the camera pans out on the tiny house out on the rolling chaparral hillsides it’s apparent that this is just the reheated leftovers of the American dream. Roxanne Gay wrote about this feeling at length last year.

Tiny house or no, feelings of diminished possibilities were always scurrying around the baseboards of my and my friend’s lives the past few years. Especially in Southern California. So that formed the setting and the tone for the story. For more on that subject let me plug Nora Lange’s story “The Craftsman” in the latest Denver Quarterly.

Many people are familiar with the killing of Harambe in 2016, and most will likely remember it when they read your story. Why did you decide to fictionalize such a widely reported true event? And why name the fictional gorilla after Patrice Lumumba?

Reading that news, I was pretty depressed. I felt that it was unjust that this animal who’d been forced to live as an exhibit far from home was then murdered because some potato-headed child fell into his enclosure. I realize how anti-social that sounds. But to me the whole situation seemed rooted in the high value we put on American life. It’s near limitless potential. That we all might grow up to be astronauts and presidents one day. Successful on our own terms at the least, with all the material trappings there of. And all that we seem willing to destroy to maintain it even as it’s daily shown to be hollow at the core. From there it was a short conceptual distance to the CIA’s assassination of Patrice Lumumba, at least for me.

How much did this story change from the first draft to the final one? How would you describe your revision process in this case? Was it typical or atypical for you? How so?

Revision for me is mostly chopping. I like to live in my work. In fact, it’s my favorite place to live. So I tend to overwrite and then bring things down. The first draft was probably twice the words, many on the uncertain charms of imagined life in Ojai. We had some friends who lived there who we’d had occasion to visit. They sort of lived on the fringes of this secret valley where the air was thin, it was compelling. This was all in 2016, before the Thomas Fire all but consumed the town.

What writing project(s) are you working on now?

I’m cycling through working on some stories, a novel and a dissertation. In a case of life imitating art, Nora and I were evicted from the basement apartment of the aforementioned Los Angeles craftsman home in April and have been on the road since. Right now we’re close to a research library, so I’m working on the dissertation.

What have you read recently that you would like to recommend?

Phil A. Neel’s Hinterland felt like putting on a new pair of glasses. Things came into focus. I’m excited to read Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants by Mathias Enard. I loved Zone and I love Istanbul, so I will not be disappointed. Otherwise I’ve spent a lot of my recent reading time going back over Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism for my dissertation, and my general disposition.

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