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Paul Lisicky Reading
UNCW Kenan Hall 1111
4/4, Free, 7 p.m.

Courtesy Graphic

As I sat in my hotel room in
New York, ready and anxious to meet with a  publisher for the first time (I‘m excited to admit to readers: I sold my first novel!), I couldn’t help but feel the city’s energy encapsulate me. Everywhere I turned it seemed as though society’s pressure to conform just didn’t exist. Whether by blue hair, purple-striped stockings, a Mohawk or cowboy hat, within five minutes of arriving in the city, I spotted countless individuals unafraid to sport their character. In short, it was a beautiful sight and a powerful muse. I concluded it damn near impossible to feel isolated here.

The feeling of openness brought to mind author Paul Lisicky, whose work centers on breaking aforementioned seams of conformity. Lucky for encore book enthusiasts, Lisicky is in the Port City this week ready to discuss his work at UNCW.

Best known for “Lawnboy” (which dives deep into the coming-of-age mind of 17-year-old Evan who’s grappling with his sexuality) and the memoir “Famous Builder,” Lisicky is admittedly obsessed with the question: How does our sense of trust, faith, and drive affect our lives and our growth? His work has appeared in countless journals, including the Iowa Review, StoryQuarterly and Five Points. The expanse of his talent also includes teaching in the graduate writing programs at Cornell, Rutgers-Newark, Sarah Lawrence, Antioch University Los Angeles and NYU.

I had the chance to catch up with Lisicky on his way to Wilmington to discuss his new novel, “The Burning House.” “It’s another book about desire,” he says. “But this one’s about a man who’s asking questions about what it means to be good as his life crumbles around him. He’s lost his job, his sister-in-law moves in after she lost her apartment, an dhis wife is suffering from mysterious physical ailments. So how do you go on with any kind of integrity when the life you’ve taken for granted is falling into chaos?”

To best describe Lisicky’s work, it continues the momentum within our literary world’s role of celebrating individuality. His work attempts to exemplify the gay community their own genre as an important and honored literary element. Interesting still, Lisicky‘s work goes beyond gender identification.

“It’s often not very linear or organized,” Lisicky says. “People can be out to some people and not out to others. And for some people, that can go on throughout a life. I don’t think it’s ever as neat as we’re told it is. Evan, the narrator of ‘Lawnboy,’ actually denies his sexuality to himself for a time after his parents turn on him. I think any book that tries to dramatize those untold experiences can be crucial company.”

Lisicky explained, psychologically, what we call “coming out” as such an intense transformation that it involves deep emotions born out of a heroism. This in itself is a thrilling characteristic that can fascinate and enthrall.

“All of my work wants to be about the complexity of desire,” he says, “how it can both nourish us and make our lives difficult. All of it is about a search for home and belonging. And all of it wants to think about the tension between external categorization versus self-definition. I think just about all of us can connect to those concerns, regardless of how we know ourselves.”

Noting the ongoing battles we each have to face in life, Lisicky takes to facing them all without avail. He even divulges his own. “I struggle with everything I write. I’m not much interested in writing anything that doesn’t involve a struggle,” he admits. “I’m trying to get to the bottom of something, even though I usually just end up asking questions. As a writer, I don’t have to know, though I want the work to be energized by investigation.”

Former resident of Provincetown, Massachusetts, Lisicky will serve as the New Voices Visiting Writer at Rutgers-Camden during the 2011-12 academic year. He will also speak at UNCW at 7 p.m., Monday, April 4th, in Kenan Hall 1111. The reading is free and open to the public. A reception sponsored by the UNCW Department of Creative Writing and a book signing sponsored by Pomegranate Books will follow.

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