Thursday, February 26, 2009


My father's old teak desk

and a good luck charm shelf mounted next to my computer featuring from top to bottom: a miniature mannequin pisse, a grasshopper, an african trading bead, the letter G for the angel Gabriel, a Hungarian doll, a garnet, a piece of Norway and a metal frog.

Shannon Stewart for DESK SPACE


SHANNON STEWART Shannon Stewart: poet, children's author, teacher-in-training

DS When did you start writing?

SS When my family first moved to Vancouver I was given a typewriter that I set up on the dining room table. I hacked away at my first two 'pieces'; Wimmin's Lib and Animouls Are Nice. My grandfather ended up publishing them in his RA newsletter back in Ottawa. After such recognition, there was no looking back.

DS Where do you write?

SS At a narrow, leather-topped teak desk from my childhood home.

DS Why do you work where you do?

SS A mangy, poorly mended polar bear rug once hung on the wall above the desk and as a child I loved climbing up and tapping at the bear's glass eyes and yellow teeth. I would count the stitches of the many gashes an amateur taxidermist had stitched together. The bear skin is long gone, but there's a comforting shadow I associate with the desk, like the smell of tobacco and old maps that stay in its drawers.

DS What are you working on now?

SS Imagining how I'm going to captivate classes of teenagers with my fascinating lectures on semi-colons and diction. On the literary front, a children's book about Shakespeare which is strangely spilling over into a series of erotic adult poems about the Bard. I like working in two genres; what is forbidden in one, rises full force in the other.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Coming up

This week on DESK SPACE: Shannon Stewart

Thursday, February 19, 2009


DESK SPACE Who (a witty one-liner or a bio)?

ELIF BATUMAN Elif Batuman is Senior Writer for n+1 magazine and lives in San Francisco. Her writing has appeared in Harper's, the New Yorker, the London Review of Books, and the Guardian, among other publications. You can learn more about her life and thoughts by visiting her blog, My Life and Thoughts.

DS When did you start writing, publish your first book (or when are you
publishing your next)?

EB I started writing a novel when I was seven, about the daily lives of the witches in all the Grimm fairy tales (there were four of them, and they all knew each other). I never finished this novel. I became a full-time writer 20+ years later, once I finished grad school.

I'm currently working on my first book, provisionally titled "The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them" - it's scheduled to come out in February 2010.

DS Where do you write (at your desk/outside/in bed)?

EB Mostly at home at my desk.

DS Why do you work where you do (at your desk because it is a quiet
> space/outside b/c it helps you think/in the park b/c you can smoke, etc)?

EB I like to have a big computer screen, so I can move things around. I also like for my cat Friday to sit under the desk. Sometimes I work on my laptop at the library or in a café, but eventually I miss the big screen and cat.

People sometimes ask me why I keep a framed $20 bill on my desk. I tell them: "It's a $100 bill!" (Which it is - I don't know why people think I'm so cheap.) I found it a few years ago at the Stanford library, inside a 1950s edition of the Catalan chivalric romance, Tirant lo Blanch. I was researching a dissertation chapter about Don Quijote, and had somehow convinced myself that I needed to check the first paragraph of each chapter of Tirant lo Blanch, a book I have never actually read, to check whether there was any first-person narration. I don't think I found any first-person narration... but I did find $100! I still keep it on my desk, to remind myself of the benefits of the "distant reading" of noncanonical literatures.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Coming up

This week on DESK SPACE: Elif Batuman

Thursday, February 12, 2009


John Degen for DESK SPACE


JOHN DEGEN Poet, novelist, father, civil servant.

DS When did you start writing, publish your first book or when are you publishing your next?

JD I started writing as a child on a typewriter just to see my name slowly appear on the page. Not much has changed since.

I published a book of poetry, Animal Life in Bucharest, in 2000, another, Killing Things, in 2002 and a novel, The Uninvited Guest, in 2006. I have another novel and another collection of poetry both clawing at the door to be let out into the backyard, but I’m just not sure I’m ready to follow them out and clean up the mess.

DS Where do you work?

JD I write at a boxy Ikea desk in my Etobicoke condo, but since the invention of the laptop I’ve also become more mobile. My latest bits have been written in the Buffalo and Erie County Library in Lafayette Square, downtown Buffalo, New York.

There is a terrific bar a two-block stroll from there -- Eddie Brady’s -- which is so essential when you’re writing, I find. The bartender there can really do up a martini, and you can usually get in the pool on the next Bills game. Mark Twain used to drink at Eddie Brady’s, or at least that’s the story I tell visitors.

DS What's next?

JD My next poetry collection will be called 109 Details, and is a nearly incomprehensible love story. My next novel is called Weehawken, and is a nearly incomprehensible love story. See the answer to question number two.

Follow the further adventures of… at

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Coming up

This week on DESK SPACE: John Degan

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Alex Boyd for DESK SPACE


ALEX BOYD I grew up in Toronto and published a book called Making Bones Walk with a writer and publisher I admire, Goran Simic. That meant a lot to me. It won the Gerald Lampert Award. That meant a lot to me too.

DS When did you start writing, publish your first book?

AB Started writing in a Grade 13 creative writing class where the teacher took me aside and said to keep writing poems. Wrote more poems all through university, but didn’t rewrite a word or take it more seriously until after graduation. In fact, all through university I wrote them straight into a blank journal, thinking they came out finished. I recently found a framed poem I wrote even before that, dating from 1981 when I was a kid and Trudeau was the Prime Minister. The library had a pinecone next to a jar and asked kids to write a poem about the pinecone and stuff it in the jar, so I wrote the winning poem with absolutely no clue what poetry would eventually mean to me. It’s a bad poem, but hey -- I was eleven years old. My first book wasn’t published until 2007.

DS Where do you write?

AB I write notes to myself anywhere and everywhere (someone at my work knew a scrap of paper belonged to me when it said something like “I salute the flagpole of your spine”) but do all my writing at my desk, as I’ve become used to instantly deleting former edits, and instant revisions, which is either modern or lazy or both. I only have final drafts on my computer. I don’t know if others work this way too, but I hate having earlier edits lying around in case they’re ever mistaken for a final one -- I’m more of a perfectionist with the writing than anything else in life. It does mean that any record of the writing process is wiped away, but I can live with that.

DS Why do you work where you do?

AB I work at my desk, where I always have to resist the Internet. I guess I should think of the Internet and the urge to check email as the goblin standing between me and completing my next book. The desk is one that belonged to my maternal grandmother and I sit in a captain’s chair (or so the style of chair was described to me once) that belonged to my paternal grandfather, who fought in the First World War. I can’t work in coffee shops or with others around, I always tune in to conversations around me even though I don’t want to do it, and for similar reasons I hesitate to see films in theatres now, people seem to do so much talking. The desk is right inside the door to the bedroom of my one bedroom apartment, though I’m often spilling out into the living room to read or think or watch a video. It’s all about creating a peaceful space.

DS What are you working on now?

AB A second book of poems, a first novel, a first book of essays and reviews -- I do hope some of that eventually sees the light of day, I’m sure my desk would like to shed some of it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Coming up

This week on DESK SPACE: Alex Boyd