Published September 15, 2020

Joni Murphy, author of Talking Animals, is a writer from southern New Mexico who lives in New York. Her debut novel, Double Teenage, was named one of The Globe and Mail‘s 100 Best Books of 2016. Get to know Joni in this Q&A and then join us on Thursday, September 17 at 12pm ET to hear her discuss her work on SHELF LIFE: Conversational Creatures with Anita Felicelli and Joni Murphy.

Festival: What motivated you to become a writer?

Murphy: At times in my life I’ve wished or attempted to make plays or audio art, scholarship or films, but my attitude or resources prevented me from committing to any of these modes fully. I’m too impatient and internal to create anything more than writing.

Writing is cheap and portable.

It’s also been an excellent way for me to argue with my ancestors.

And when you finally have a book, it’s a pleasing object that strangers take intimately into their lives. So I get to feel a connection through this intermediary without actually being present. It’s very moving to make a book and then let it go about its own life.

Who or what are some of your creative influences?

I always have my most recent favorite works, and the more permanent influences. The recent favorites appear and fade, while the permanent hum beneath everything.  

Making no distinction between recent and permanent here are a few defining influences: New Mexico, cities on islands, David Graeber, Fernando Pessoa, Eugene Lim, Mark Lombardi, Jared Kobek, Chris Kraus, Walter Benjamin, Arvaro Mutis, Lisa Robertson, Jerry Zaslove, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Roberto Bolano, Flann O’Brian, Augusto Boal, Ariana Reines, Hilton Als, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Jane Fonda, Matthew Goulish, the MTA, my friends, decaying high modernist architecture, ferries, the radio.

What was your favorite part about writing your latest book?

Imagining the restaurants and music clubs of an all-animal New York.

Do you have any sources of inspiration that you come back to while writing?

I accumulate a collection of images and music for each writing project. For Talking Animals I listened to a lot of post punk shouting and watched a lot of animal videos and dogs in the park. I also found a quite pleasing video of whales blowing a bubble net in a Fibonacci spiral.

Describe how a book changed your life or perspective.

If I hadn’t read Roberto Bolano’s 2666 in Vancouver in the fall of 2009, I’m certain I’d be living a different life.

What is something that you’ve read recently and would recommend to others?

Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being by Amy Fung

What are you working on next?

Something to do with The Manuscript Found at Sargasso by Jan Potocki, actresses, and post-war America.  

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With generous support from Michelle and David Baldacci

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