Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Pavement’s Literary Influence: Barry Hannah

As I mentioned in a previous post (and which it saddens me to note), novelist and all-around great guy Barry Hannah passed away yesterday. A modern-day Faulkner, with jarring, sometimes-absurd characters and situations, Hannah was also deeply rooted in the South and its literary traditions.

Airships is one of my all-time favorite story collections, and I like to pass it along to my students when they’re writing particularly knotty or disfunctional stories. This, it seems, is as good a time as any for Hannah’s fiction.

Zach Baron writes in the Village Voice about Stephen Malkmus’ appreciation for Barry Hannah. Malkmus, the lead singer for Pavement and whose self-titled solo album is a personal favorite, noted in a 2003 Believer interview that Hannah was a definite influence for Pavement’s dark, quixotic lyrics. Malkmus and co-leader David Berman shared several qualities with Hannah, in particular that all three were “prone to fragments, dark comedy, loner-types.”

Randy Kennedy also wrote a touching remembrance in The New York Times‘ Paper Cuts blog. Again, Hannah comes across as a wise yet rebellious soul:

He seemed a little let down by the safe direction he felt fiction had taken since the high-wire years of the 1970s, years he had helped to define. “Blandness has taken over everywhere,” he complained, “or just idiot low sensation.” Of the creative-writing students he taught he said: “They’re actually better than they used to be, because they are older. But there is not a drunk among them. Nobody takes drugs.”

I think that’s one of the reasons I admired Hannah’s work so much–the unapologetic nods to being bad, the way he called out the blandness in contemporary fiction. And that’s why I pass it along when other writers are seeking relief from the carefully-crafted yet lifeless workshop story.

R.I.P. Barry Hannah. Thanks for your fiction and your imagined worlds.

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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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