In the introduction to his newest book, Last Stories and Other Stories, National Book Award Winner William T. Vollmann claims that this will be his last work and “any subsequent productions bearing my name will have been written by a ghost”. On this Thursday however Vollmann will be very much alive as he makes a rare public appearance, reading from his new collection of stories that deal with death and the unknown. The event is not open to the public but “invitation only”. Black envelopes with the secret location for the reading were given out on a first come, first served basis at the front counter of the City Lights Bookstore during the past month. Needless to say, this event is sold out. City Lights is proud to present an eerie night of Vollmann’s strange, otherworldly tales somewhere in the heart of historical San Francisco.
Last Stories and Other Stories is Vollmann’s first work of fiction in the past nine years; his previous novel, Europe Central, won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2005. Since then, Vollmann has written many books on a diverse range of topics–from the Mexico-U.S. Border to Japanese Noh theater. He also recently published a collection of photographs he took of himself dressed as a woman, which he believes is a way for him to investigate the female gender. Vollmann’s investigative work has taken him from Sarajevo to the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. These experiences inform his prolific body of work.
Vollmann said in a recent interview with NPR that the inspiration for Last Stories and Other Stories came from fragments of ideas in his notes that he “took a certain amount of risk and effort to gather, and they kind of haunt you, but they’re incomplete.” His new collection of ghost stories is a departure from his previous work, but in an article by the Sacramento Bee, Vollmann explains his fascination with the inevitability of death, especially his own. Vollmann maintains that this intense curiosity is a major part of all of his work, as well as his definition of art itself.
In a fascinating interview with The Atlantic, Vollmann discusses the aphorism “nothing is true, all is permissible” from the 11th century Muslim missionary Hassan-i Sabah and how it relates to his writing. See below:
I think that for an artist, certainly, it’s good to remember that nothing is true for all time—and therefore, that all is permissible. You shouldn’t get struck in any one truth. Every idea, every identity is doomed to die, just as we are. I think that’s one reason I try so many different approaches in my books—I don’t want to limit myself to one approach, one artistic self.
And why shouldn’t ideas continually change, when there’s so much we can never know—will never know? Death, for instance, will always escape us … That’s why we’re always engaging with it, trying to understand death by animating and personifying it, by giving it some sort of life and face. And death, of course, is nothingness—so we’re always doomed to fail. And yet, it’s this effort itself that forms our only possible relationship to death. I like to think that creating these quite absurd characters—ghouls and ghosts, dead people, scenarios in the grave—was actually my way of trying to imagine something that helps me prepare myself for death. And maybe readers will feel something of the same.
The William T. Vollmann event will be held at an unknown location and is sold out on Thursday, July 24, 2014. Doors open at 7:00 PM and the reading will begin at 7:30 PM.
For more information about all of our events at City Lights, click here.