I was going to blog about the 911 caller in the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. case because she just held a press conference, but decided it’s time to let that one go. Instead, a new profile of William T. Vollman in the New York Times.
I first heard of Vollman from a friend in graduate school. I was always curious what other people were reading, who were the writers who blew them away, what was the latest “must-read.” My friend Lacy listed a couple writers, including Vollman, and after reading some of his short stories, I was hooked.
Especially fascinating to me was Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Random Thoughts on Violence, Freedom, and Urgent Means, which he wrote a couple years ago. This book is more than 3,000 pages, but is abridged for publication–as are many of Vollman’s works. He’s a literary lion with an encyclopedic knowledge. Listening to him discuss the book at B.U. a couple years ago, I was struck by how comprehensive his knowledge was: from the bones in a French graveyard to post-colonialism to cross-dressing (which he’s researching for a book now).
Here’s my favorite quote from the NYT profile:
Mr. Vollmann spent two weeks alone at the magnetic North Pole, where he suffered frostbite and permanently burned off his eyebrows when he accidentally set his sleeping bag on fire. But being eyebrowless has its advantages, he discovered more recently, while experimenting with cross-dressing to research a novel he’s now writing about the transgendered. He didn’t have to pluck his brows when getting made up.
This is some serious commitment to his art.