James Sallis: mystery's man of letters
Excerpts from the interview by James Clar in the December/January 2006 issue of Mystery News
James Sallis is an essayist, literary critic, musicologist, translator, poet, biographer and novelist. Possessing a frighteningly keen, scintillating intellect as well as a penetrating insight, this guy is as prolific as he is talented. In an era when the same authors achieve repeated commercial success telling the same story over and over again with essentially the same characters, the depth, breadth, and utter originality of the Sallis canon is in itself worthy of note.
Truly the consummate "man of letters," Sallis has published materials as diverse as Ash of Stars (1996), a study of the work of Sci-Fi great Samuel R. Delany, The Guitar Players: One Instrument & Its Masters of American Music (1982), along with translations of French, Russian and Spanish poetry. His fiction features descriptions and dialogue that are so sharp you'll prick your fingers while turning the pages of his books. What's more, his prose can be at the same time so lyrical and so poignant that your breath will, in places, catch in your throat. No only does Sallis' work defy any pat classification, the author himself flatly rejects any attempt to categorize his work according to some kind of framework. "One wears only one hat at a time," Sallis observed, "while remembering what one looked like in those other hats. At any single moment I'm a poet, a novelist, a critic. Depends upon which bucket I am carrying. But in writing prose, I carry over my poet's ear (and perhaps my musician's ear as well) for language and rhythm. Nor does the fiction writer inside me revise a story of novel without the critic standing there sternly watching over one shoulder and clearing his throat from time to time. This notion that one must be a... poet, a novelist, an essayist...is really fairly recent, you know, and horribly sad. It's all writing. Sometimes the screwdriver works, sometimes you need an awl."
Drive by James Sallis
Published by: Poisoned Pen Press
Read the complete interview in the December/January 2006 issue of Mystery News