David Vann


David Vann (1966) is an American writer and author of Legend of a Suicide, Caribou Island , Dirt and Goat Mountain. Vann's work has won several important prizes, such as the Prix Médicis Etranger, the Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction and the  L'Express readers' prize. His work has been published in over twenty languages, such as Dutch, French, Spanish, Danish, Chinese and Korean. He is currently professor creative writing at the university of Warwick in England and writes for magazines such as The Atlantic and Esquire.

Vann was born in Alaska and had a rough childhood. The vicissitudes of his family history and childhood has been a source of inspiration for his work, as his first book Legend of a Suicide (2008) is a semi-autobiographical short story collection. For 12 years, no agent would send out his first book, so he went to sea and became a captain and boat builder. Based on those experiences he wrote A Mile Down: The True Story of a Disastrous Career at Sea (2005), a veritable story about his adventure in the open sea and the confrontation with his dreams. His first novel, Caribou Island (2011), captures the drama and pathos of a couple whose failed dreams and tragic past push them to the edge. Following novel Dirt (2012) offers an exhilarating portrayal of a legacy of violence and madness. 

Besides his work of fiction, Vann has also published non-fiction such as Last Day on Earth. A Portrait of the NIU School Shooter (2011) which relates to the shooting that took place in Northern Illinois University in 2011. Goat Mountain (2013) is a provocative story about the most primitive instincts, the ties that bind us together and the consequences of our actions. His most recent work is the novel Aquarium (2015).


Photo © Diana Matar


Authors' text

Dear Cormac,

I've met hundreds of writers around the world, but I know I'm never going to meet you. Very sad, because I think Blood Meridian is the greatest American work ever written. I've read it six times, and all your other works, and I have questions. One is how you went from that earlier draft that the Texas archives have now to the final version. Such an enormous difference. The early draft is something I almost could have written, or at least I can see those sentences are possible. The final is far beyond my reach as a writer and, in the first read, was beyond my reach even as a reader. I wondered about fakery and had to read several more times to be convinced. I ask because I'm not able to revise. My novel Goat Mountain is published the same as the first draft, with only a few line edits, and I wonder if I'm missing some way to turn each work into something better.
I teach Blood Meridian to my students, and I wonder whether you would think that what I say is bullshit. I tell them you're not a dramatist, not writing from a dramatic tradition, and that you can't do the inside lives of characters, or women, or believable dramatic interaction. But I tell them Blood Meridian does something very unusual, skipping the dramatic plane and going directly into theme, through landscape description that extends into figurative landscapes, as when you write about mountains "whose true geology was not stone but fear." This development of theme through extension of landscape is a long American literary tradition, rural and regional, the greatest and most important America literary tradition despite what New York thinks, and I imagine you've felt frustrated by New York and by seeing idiocies such as Franzen on the cover of Time as the great American novelist while you're still alive. Frustrating also to have everyone read The Road instead of Blood Meridian.

But I want to know your response, not just what I imagine. I want to know what it's like to have written your greatest work more than 30 years ago. What does that make writing for you now? And what was it like to have no competitor, to be so much better than any other writer at that time, despite Morrison's Beloved being voted above Blood Meridian? And would you agree that The Road is thin and offers only melodrama, not drama, and relies unbelievably on coincidence at the end, when they find the ones who might be the good people just as he's dying? Would you agree that No Country For Old Men makes a great movie but fails as a novel because you can't do stream of consciousness? Would you agree All The Pretty Horses is wounded by the young woman not being so believable? I ask because I do believe you're the greatest and I want to also see your limitations clearly and I wonder how you think of them.

I do believe the writing you've given us is the greatest gift and teacher possible, and that no conversation or even longer association could provide anything as important, but it's just that you've said so little in interviews and left such a void. It drives me crazy that you're still alive but so unreachable. You'll be dead soon and it'll be too late. I hope you'll at least consider writing more about your work before you leave. It would be nice to know what you thought.

Passa Porta
19.10.15 > 23.11.15

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