The Rumpus Interview with Ben Fama

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“Reality is a buzzkill,” Ben Fama says in his newest book, but inside the world of Fantasy I’m too buzzed to notice. Ben has published several chapbooks, including Cool Memories and Odalisque, as well as the art book Mall Witch. Fantasy is one grand glossy surface, scratched up in the places where you caught your reflection staring back at you.

After reading Fantasy for the first time I just wanted to go back to the beginning and read the whole thing over. Ben is the perfect voice for right now, for selfies and split Adderalls, for Klout scores and sample sales, for ultra-connection and loneliness, for a time when the sweetest love note is indeed what he says in “Odalisque”: “If you were not here, I’d be incredibly bored.”

His writing is irresistible, unapologetically fun and yet so caustically intelligent. Ben is like the cool kid you follow around the party so you can keep gossiping about Taylor Swift, only to find out that he’s read more Proust than you have. In honor of his first full-length collection, we talked about how he writes, whom he admires, and how his press used to create guest lists by asking people for their secret crushes. See—how could you resist?

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The Rumpus: One time I bought a book of yours for a dirty martini with Tito’s vodka (which, technically, was overpaying). Another time I paid you with cash but then forced you to inscribe it to a friend of mine you’ve never met. Are many of your fans erratic and/or demanding?

Ben Fama: I like this anecdote, all the concepts it synthesizes. For instance I’ve been carrying around the quote, “Art is what makes life more interesting than art,” and I see this as an example. Freud described aesthetics as a capacity for feeling. I once visited an acquaintance who was using my book as a mouse pad. He knew I was coming and didn’t consider changing his arrangement. I think readers should be more demanding of writers. Though it’s possible you were overcharged.

Rumpus: What do you demand of your favorite writers?

Fama: The more I like them, the less I demand. I’m loyal (to a fault), almost a perfect Leo. I suppose that makes me sound like a fanboy. It’s a pleasing experience to be won over in spite of prior inclinations.

Rumpus: What is your writing process like?

Fama: I’m that person who has to block out time to write. My partner (Monica McClure) also writes and so we sit in our studio writing and not talking for hours at a time; of course, usually I pause to refill her tea or make her coffee (I don’t drink coffee, but I do drink tea, or gin, which is useful up to a point). There are a lot of drafts.

Rumpus: In Fantasy, you say, “The Internet is my home, where it’s easy to be beautiful.” The Internet and various platforms of connection figure heavily into Fantasy. What do you think this state of ultra-connection has done to our self-perception and society?

Fama: Perhaps infused it with narcissistic aspiration [laughs].

Rumpus: The use of pop culture in your work is significant.

Fama: I play on the superficial, making it exemplary of a so-called deeper set of concerns: whether interiority, the politics of representation, obsession, longing. But also I like the superficial. Like a tremendous and polished pop song: sugary, sweet finishes whose lacquers hide more pernicious things underneath.

Rumpus: You co-founded the press called Wonder with Andrew Durbin. Can you tell me a little about how this came to be and what the current projects are?

Fama: Wonder started as an event platform. We held crush parties where guests wrote the name of their crush. The anonymously generated list we posted became the guest list. We’ve published full length works by Kate Durbin and Kevin Killian. We are going to be publishing books by Juliana Huxtable, Josef Kaplan, and Uljana Wolf next.

Rumpus: What are your feelings on poetry readings?

Fama: A good reading should serve as an enhancement or extension of the work. Perhaps the reading could be the work itself. But aren’t most readings pretty bad?

Rumpus: Crush parties do sound way better than readings.

Fama: They are.

Rumpus: You’ve told me that “Sunset” is your favorite poem of yours.

Fama: It’s my favorite poem that is online from this collection, and contains all of the themes I have been interested in over the last few years, without fearing verbosity. Put another way, it is comprehensive because I didn’t censor, or go for some idea of economy and brevity. Instead I purged. There is also a longer companion piece to that which appeared in an anthology called Surveillance Poetics, published by Black Ocean. That piece is called “Conscripts of Modernity” and appears in my new book Fantasy.

Rumpus: You’re working on a novel now—is there much of a similarity between your fiction and poetry?

Fama: I’m really into New Narrative, particularly Robert Glück, a writer of, as he puts it, “enameled surfaces.” I have recently published a book on my press by Kevin Killian called Tweaky Village. Kevin and his partner Dodie [Bellamy] are central to the New Narrative movement and are editing an anthology that Nightboat is bringing out an of that soon. Though back to Robert Glück, he said it concisely, that he writes with, “That combination of polished language and harsh emotion.” I used a Glück quote as the epigraph to Fantasy.

Rumpus: What other writers do you look to for inspiration or excitement?

Fama: Ariana Reines, Jenny Zhang, Andrew Durbin, Robert Glück, Kathy Acker.

Rumpus: In an interview with Flavorwire, you said that the alt lit scene was more “participatory than prestigious.” How did you frame your experience?

Fama: I love the work being done by the people I named in that article—Gabby Bess, Ana Carrete. Moon Temple, the dashed-off qualities of Beach Sloth’s blog posts. He would write about anyone whether he knew them or not. That always seemed to be optimistic.

Rumpus: So Mall Witch is an art book written by you and produced by Andrew Durbin, Paul Legault, and Joseph Kaplan. It’s a full-length collection attributed to you, but it’s also been said you didn’t write it at all, and it’s a collection of stories written in your voice by your friends.

Fama: I definitely wrote it. The others created the design and oversaw the production and logistics.

Rumpus: What’s your favorite form of social media?

Fama: Twitter is winning.

Rumpus: What’s the worst thing that could happen at the Chateau Marmont?

Fama: Being sent away at the door.


Kyle Lucia Wu is a writer living in New York City. She is the managing editor for Joyland and has an MFA in fiction from The New School. Follow her on Twitter: @kylelucia. More from this author →