“The future is trash,” says Chris Campanioni. “Recycling it, re-arranging it. Making it beautiful again.” These words come from Campanioni’s newest book and first work of non-fiction, Death of Art, which has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Death of Art takes for its subject intimacy and the representations of our bodies in digital spaces—representations that transcend the physical, even death—though they simultaneously bind us to our technological tools. This project is the newest in a long and varied list for Campanioni, who has written novels, poetry and articles, worked in fashion, edits PANK, currently co-runs the YouNiversity (a non-profit digital writing workshop), and teaches literature and creative writing at Baruch College. “Teaching at Baruch has been a rare opportunity for me to simultaneously become a better teacher and a better writer. The level of professionalization and the creative and insightful workshops available to adjuncts have been invaluable as an instructor. The opportunity to design and implement my theme-based Composition course has stimulated so much of my writing about the issues it reevaluates—identity, image, and intimacy (among other things) in the age of the Internet—and allows me to learn daily from my students.” In addition to reading his newest book, interested students and faculty can hear Campanioni give a TEDx talk on March 23rd.
Five Questions with Chris Campanioni:
- What’s your earliest memory of writing?
I very clearly remember my first poem because my abuela had just passed, and I didn’t really know how to confront that. I was in the second grade and writing it was my attempt at understanding the world through language, and especially, through sound. The subject matter was Old Maid; her English was not the best and my Spanish was not so great either. We’d communicate through gestures and facial expressions, and in that way, playing Old Maid with the only deck of cards she owned was one of my first memories of learning and language, and especially the intersections between the two.
- If you could recommend one book of any genre to all incoming students at Baruch, what would it be, and why?
Wow, what a great (and difficult!) question. I just finished reading Dataclysm, which was written by the co-founder of OkCupid, Christian Rudder. But rather than being strictly about relationship norms and intimacy in our age of social media, it reveals a fascinating look at all sorts of cultural norms–and the evidence for it. Actual data about how we live our lives based on how we interact on the Internet, not surveys, not projections, not interviews which are all inherently shaped by impressions or appearances of an intended or premeditated outcome. As Rudder writes, “If you’re reading a popular science book about big data and all its portents, rest assured the data in it is you.” And that’s why I think everyone, especially incoming freshman, will not only relate but learn much more about their own lives, and the norms they abide by and often disseminate, especially unconsciously.
- What’s one slightly off-the-beaten-path spot in New York City that you think students should seek out?
I really love museums, and my favorite, especially for a quick afternoon trip, is the New Museum (235 Bowery) in the Lower East Side. It’s small, it’s accessible without being overwhelming, and it’s also one of the most provoking and contemporary; a lot of the art is a reaction and reflection of our post-capitalist, post-Internet culture. Also, not far from the New Museum is the Bowery Poetry Club (308 Bowery). Not enough people read poetry, especially Baruch students, and in any other context I would have recommended a poetry book to all incoming freshman, because poetry doesn’t show you the facts, but it illuminates the emotional truth, and because of that, it is more powerful (and relatable) than any piece of journalism. All students can and should check out the Bowery Poetry Club every Monday night for free, listening to the words of their fellow New Yorkers and stepping on stage themselves for the PoetNY open mic at the end of the evening. It’s one of the most important literary venues in New York City, and also one of its smallest.
- Do you have one reading or writing related guilty pleasure that you’re willing to share with us?
I listen to music when I write—it helps put me in a scene or state of being. I think it probably also produces a natural rhythm in the writing. So many of the distinctions between poetry and prose or what we conventionally think of as “poetry” and “prose” are blurred in my work and I can understand why given the context of the writing. I also write a lot about interruptions and interferences; a culture of always-on technology and our tethered bodies, so often I’ll allow the lyrics of the particular song to bleed into the narrative. In this way, the interruption becomes somehow more intimate and maybe even revelatory, and it elucidates a point I believe to be true about all writing: the most significant concern of a writer’s work is not actually narrative or character or plot, but only ever what they were thinking about at the moment they wrote whatever it is you are reading; how they felt in that moment that passed between you and them.
- If you could offer one piece of advice to students who are struggling with writing, what would it be?
There’s a really good passage by Roberto Bolaño from his short story “Meeting with Enrique Lin” that sort of sums up the struggle of young writers, which I think also connects well with students who are struggling with writing. He writes:
“It’s like that for all young writers. There comes a time when you have no support, not even from friends, forget about mentors, and there’s no one to give you a hand; publication, prizes, and grants are reserved for the others, the ones who said “Yes, sir,” over and over, or those who praised the literary mandarins …”
And I think the lesson here is really about perseverance and patience. Family, friends, and students often ask me about the development of my own writing, or press me to explain the big difference between 2013, when I was struggling to get published and find an audience, to today. And I think the change comes on a very personal, solitary level. Nothing in your environment will need to happen for you to succeed as a writer. The change will come from you, like the switch on a reel of film or a film projector, and suddenly you see it all and your audience follows. You’ve had the tools to succeed all along and it’s only the confidence in your abilities that’s been absent. And now you have that too. And you used your voice to do it; you didn’t alter or amend or censor that wellspring that makes you you. Because what makes a good piece of writing a good piece of writing is that it could have only come out of you. If a writer is struggling with their writing, it’s time to get real. And that means being personal and vulnerable and both of those things will not diminish the authority in your words; they will be the driving force behind them.