Henry Hoke, author of The Groundhog Forever, also wrote The Book of Endless Sleepovers and the story collection, Genevieves, which won the Subito prose prize. He co-created and directs the performance series Enter>text. His memoir, Sticker, is forthcoming from Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons. Learn more at HenryHoke.com.
Get to know Henry in this Q&A and then join us on Thursday, May 27 at 12 PM ET as part of our Shelf Life series of virtual events to hear him discuss his work in SHELF LIFE—The Groundhog Forever with Henry Hoke & Lydia Conklin.
Festival: What motivated you to become a writer?
Hoke: The social experience of sharing writing out loud is at the core of why I write. I’ve created much of my work with presentation in mind, certainly with my performance series Enter>text, but going way back. So really my parents were pivotal, their encouragement, their function as a first audience. My mom was always excited to listen to my writing, regardless of whether it made her proud or worried. And my dad is still the most voracious reader I’ve ever encountered, so I grew up surrounded by literature, and he was happy to play roles in all the musicals I composed.
Who or what are some of your creative influences?
I draw a lot from children’s books, the clarity and distillation of that style of writing, only I channel this approach into lit for adults. Those god-tier duos: Frog and Toad, George and Martha, Calvin and Hobbes—who taught me to read and gave me a jump-start on vocab—all hold up and serve as guiding lights. Tove Jansson’s Moomin comic strips are probably my favorite art right now, her cozy despair, iconoclasm and brilliance.
What was your favorite part about writing your latest book?
I loved revisiting a weird, transitional time in my life—undergraduate film school in post-9/11 Manhattan—from a point far in the future, that particular form of time travel. I wrote The Groundhog Forever between classes I was teaching at The University of Virginia Young Writers Workshop—hosted at Sweet Briar college—staring out a window onto a green field teeming with real groundhogs. But my head was in a wounded New York.
Do you have any sources of inspiration that you come back to while writing?
I need music in my ears, ambient albums I can disappear with: Stars of the Lid, Emahoy Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou, Balam Acab. Roxy Music’s Avalon is one of my favorite sonic spaces to inhabit, but I can’t listen to anything with lyrics while I write. Then, a few months ago, I discovered The Avalon Tapes, which is the demos for that record with Bryan Ferry just crooning non-words for the melodies over the music, like a gift from heaven. So that’s my new go-to.
What impact or takeaway do you hope your work will have for readers?
I want to re-instill immediacy for the reader, so it’s not such a passive experience. I want each page to be a shift, a new adventure, to throw you off and address you directly, implicate you. You’re part of why the book works. We’re collaborating across time.
What is something that you’ve read recently and would recommend to others?
I’ve been recommending Steven Dunn’s Potted Meat to everyone who’ll listen. It’s a lean, visceral novel-in-morsels about a Black kid coming of age in crumbling West Virginia, his imagination and longing in the face of matter-of-fact brutality. It’s incredibly funny and unflinching. Dunn’s prose tugs your eyelids open and dangles your mouth wide. There’s not a single wasted sentence.
What are you working on next?
I just delivered my memoir Sticker to Bloomsbury. It’s a sequence of twenty micro-essays about my childhood in Charlottesville, and it’ll be out in January. I recently drafted a Los Angeles novel. The narrator is a mountain lion and yet it somehow feels even more like a memoir than the memoir.