2009 National Book Award Finalist YPL
Interview with David Small

David Small


W. W. Norton & Company

Interviewed by Willie Perdomo

Photo credit: Gordon Trice

Willie Perdomo: Most artists who are redeemed by their art could not think of anything they would rather be doing. If you woke up and lost your redemption, to whom or what would you turn?

David Small: Single malt scotch. Heh! Just kidding! This is a disturbing question, which, it so happens, I have asked myself several times. The answer is, I would have to completely rewire myself and become a different kind of person to survive that loss. I'm not sure I could do it.

WP: When you composed Stitches, what was the biggest obstacle in writing a book so personal?

DS: That would have to be the embarrassment of talking about myself at such length, which I have always seen as a sign of insufferable egotism.

WP: How did you overcome it?

DS: I gradually came to realize that the self-absorption was in the service of inward-looking, which, at this point in my life, I felt was necessary for my own progress as a man, as a husband, as a step-parent.

WP: Traditionally, editors will team a writer with a specific illustrator. Was there a moment when you thought that you were too close to the subject to provide the right illustrations?

DS: No, no, it was much too personal a book to hand over to another illustrator. No one could have done it for me. Besides that, part of the power of doing it, for me, was in literally drawing out my family and drawing myself back into proximity with them, bringing the whole episode to life again in an immediate, visceral way. I've said the book was like psychoanalysis, but in fact it was better, less expensive, and took much less time than psychoanalysis! I highly recommend it.

Conversely, there were many times when I longed for someone to step in and tell me how to construct the story. Memory being such a fragmentary and disorganized affair, I was showing the book to everyone who came through my studio door (even, once, to the UPS guy), hoping for a reaction that would give me some clue as to what I should strike out, what to keep, and so on. This is what finally led my editor, Bob Weil, to throw up his hands and tell me to sequester myself. "No one but you can do this, David," he told me. "Be like the cormorant," he said, “who dives beneath the skin of the sea and comes up with a treasure of fish." This advice was so right, stated so poetically, and showed such faith in my abilities, how could I not respond to it?

WP: Do you think the graphic novel will survive the Kindle?

DS: Unless the Kindle makes some dramatic, unforeseen improvements, as regards the illustrated book I think it will end up in the Museum of Forgotten Toys alongside the Etch-A-Sketch, which, in its current incarnation, it closely resembles.

WP: What’s your favorite silent movie?

DS: I never watched many silent movies. However, I can think of a favorite movie that would still work its magic without sound: L’Avventura by Michelangelo Antonioni. The dialogue in that film is basically—and, I think, purposefully—meaningless. The story is told completely through the images and the rhythm of the shots.

Willie Perdomo is the author Where a Nickel Costs a Dime and Smoking Lovely, which received a PEN America Beyond Margins Award. He has also been published in The New York Times Magazine, Bomb, CENTRO Journal and African Voices. His children's book, Visiting Langston, received a Coretta Scott King Honor. He has been a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Woolrich Fellow in Creative Writing at Columbia University and is a 2009 fellow in Poetry from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He is co-founder/publisher of Cypher Books. willieperdomo.com