November 2010


Stephen Elliott, the author of seven books including The Adderall Diaries, and the Editor of the online literary site, The Rumpus http://therumpus.net, sat down with 12th Street’s Jennifer Sky to discuss the politics of writing and the lure of the website for the literary world.  This is the premier interview of 12th Street Online’s monthly author series.  Enjoy – Liz Axelrod, Editor in Chief

12th Street Online: What was the catalyst to starting your online literary magazine, The Rumpus?

Stephen Elliott: I was done with The Adderall Diaries—that was my seventh book—and I didn’t really have the urge to write another book. I wanted to do something else. I thought, “Well, I should get into editing,” because that’s kind of what I know how to do. If you write long enough, eventually you learn how to edit because editing is such a huge part of writing. So I thought I would start editing somewhere.

I was actually talking to Arianna Huffington about joining The Huffington Post. I had all these ideas—pages and pages of ideas—about how I wanted to build a book section for The Huffington Post and all these cools things I wanted to do with it. Then at some point I thought, “Well, it’s just a website. If I have all these ideas why am I giving them to Arianna Huffington?” You know, I’ll just do it myself. So I started The Rumpus. I didn’t know if I was going to make any money or if anyone would read it. That’s the same way I write. You start it and see what happens. It’s like I do everything.

12th: The Rumpus has already carved out a pretty invaluable place in the online literary community. How do you account for its popularity?

SE:  Huh… “invaluable.” I don’t know about that description. Can a literary website really be invaluable? The Rumpus is good. There’s a lot of good content. It’s updated frequently. So if you have some shit job and you want to distract yourself and you want a website that is updated all day long, there are a lot of options, but there are also not a lot of options. There’s Gawker, which is really mean and kind of spiteful. There is The Huffington Post, which is so stupid, so full of so much overwhelming idiocy. There’s Slate and Salon, which are pretty good but they are writing about the same things. They’re chasing clicks all the time; they rarely introduce us to something new. They always have stories about Obama or whoever else is the popular person for that day. They are kind of always behind what’s happening, as opposed to setting the agenda. There are not that many options for somebody if you want a site that is about literature, smart, updated frequently, and is going to introduce you to new people—that strives to have some integrity. We never do any pop culture on The Rumpus. We never do any smart essays about Britney Spears. It’s a Britney-Spears-free zone. There’s no Paris Hilton on The Rumpus, ever. And even though we love Obama, we don’t do anything about Obama because he’s over exposed. We try to introduce people to new culture, to culture they wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. We are trying to take that role of curating a little more seriously than I thing people are currently taking it. And so I think that’s why The Rumpus is popular.

12th: Does The Rumpus have a mission statement? Do you operate under any specific guiding principles?

SE: If you go to the website, there’s a post describing what The Rumpus is, which is available from any page on the site. It talks about that, while the web was supposed to diversify content, it hasn’t; it has just focused attention on the same few things. It has become the lowest common denominator, in a lot of ways, and that The Rumpus is the place you can go to get away from pop culture. It’s okay if someone’s popular. We will write about Dave Eggers, Malcolm Gladwell, Joan Didion—these are popular writers—but we won’t write about mass-produced culture, culture that is created by marking executives.

(more…)

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“…I became curious about things and my curiosity kept me going.”

The Adderall Diaries, S.E.

Note: Adderall is a brand-name medication intended for people with ADHD. It increases alertness, libido and concentration, and, because it affects the mesolimbic reward pathway in the brain, it is as addictive as cocaine and methamphetamine.

Stephen Elliott’s memoir is a cocktail of sadomasochistic sex, hardcore drugs, emotional abuse and the altering perceptions on self, culture and the fine line that disguises the outcome of truth and fiction. But it’s more complex than a list of what it is and what it isn’t. As he mentions in the middle of the book: This book begins with a suicidal urge. If I was going to kill myself anyway, I could write whatever I wanted. And that’s what I started to do. He begins by mentioning that his father may have killed a man—a fantastic beginning. We follow the unraveling story, but then detour towards a murder trial set in San Francisco where Hans Reiser is accused of killing his wife, which Elliott has committed to write about. Through this suspenseful, edge-of-the-seat prose that pulls the reader along, underneath lies the tender and raw exploration of self that truly makes this work worthy of literary attention.

In a world where he finds comfort hogtied and abused, Elliott is an honest and straight-forward narrator. He is as sharp as a paper cutter in his approach to contemporary culture, like in moments when he amalgamates Paris Hilton’s incarceration with the Iraq War, showing the irony of how the media’s attention glamorized the beauty of a caged celebrity while war continued. He takes us through the detailed account of the murder trial throughout the book, and as he does so overlaps it with his tumultuous relationship with his father. By the end of the novel he confesses that it’s the most important relationship he’s ever had, even though his memory of it is terrifying: It wasn’t the handcuffs or the beatings or his shaving my head. That was nothing. It was the terror.

A denouement never arrives, only in regard to the trail in which Hans, the accused, finally confesses to the murder and is sent to a minimum of fifteen years in prison. In the last chapter Elliott refers to having read Robert Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance numerous times as a teenager, hooked by Persig’s sense of resolution, trying to make it feel true to him. But he felt it was too much, too sweeping. The last line of the book can’t possibly be true, he felt. Instead: Neat conclusions do nothing for me. I write to make sense, to communicate, to connect, which is the overall sense you feel when reading this work.

The Adderall Diaries is an excellent, deft and provocative meta-memoir that becomes a strange, beautiful thing by the time you reach its last page.

Reviewed by Mario A. Zambrano

Editor’s Note: Look for 12th Street Online’s interview with Stephan Elliott, coming soon.