Rob Spillman speaks with Gabriel Don.

Rob Spillman, award winning editor, co founder of Tin House, teacher, writer and exemplary literary citizen speaks with Gabriel Don.

You hosted the Gotham Writers series at the Brooklyn Public Library featuring writers such as Greil Marcus and Tracy K Smith, how do you come up with your questions?

I approach the interviews somewhat selfishly. I pick writers I want to talk to and ask the questions I am interested in. I carefully read their books and also as many past interviews as possible. I want to ask questions they haven’t been asked before.

When did you become involved with Tin House and has it evolved during your time there? 

I am the co-founding editor (with Elissa Schappell). We started it in 1998 and the first issue came out in the spring of 1999. We had a clear idea of what we wanted―voice-driven, fun, with writers taking risks. That hasn’t changed. But my goal is to be open to surprise, and so I am continually exposing myself to new and different voices. If I stop being surprised, I’ll stop editing.

Tin House is a bicoastal literary magazine, how does the literary community of Portland compare to New York?

We keep each other honest. New York is in the middle of Literary Industrial Complex and the nonstop hype mix. Portland could care less about hype.

Having written for numerous publications including GQ, the New York Times Book Review, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Vogue and also working as an editor, what is your process for writing as opposed to editing and do you have a routine?

I have no routine. I’m always on a deadline of one sort or another. I also teach (at Columbia) and work with PEN, CLMP, Narrative4, and 826NYC, write a monthly column for Guernica on politically-engaged fiction and poetry, and have a memoir coming out from Grove next April. I am very good at compartmentalizing.

How are women positioned within the creative industries?

I believe that things are improving. VIDA has certainly shed light on inequities and everyone is paying attention.

The Gotham: New York City’s Best Writers was made possible in part with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, do you think there is enough public funding for the arts and how does someone who is creatively inclined cope with applications?

There could always be more money. With arts and cultural funding, the US consistently ranks abysmally in comparison to all other industrialized nations. I’m always embarrassed when I travel to international festivals. As for applications for individuals, it is part of the process, which includes rejection. It is something that all artists have to cope with.

What advice do you have for people who want to be a writer/editor?

Read. A lot. And treat the literary world like the ecosystem it is―you have to take care of it and contribute to it in order for it to thrive. Which means go to readings, buy books and magazines, help each other out.

Could you share a favorite line from a book?

“I feel like a wet seed wild in the hot blind earth.” -Faulkner, As I Lay Dying

Congratulation on your recent PEN/Nora Magid Award for Editing! You were recognized as “a magazine editor whose high literary taste has, throughout his or her career, contributed significantly to the excellence of the publication he or she edits.” How would you define your literary tastes? What do you look for when reading?

Thank you. I like voice-driven work that is hard to define. I would rather read something that is messy and problematic than something that is neat and tidy and risks little.

What does a unicorn represent to you?


 It is said that agents won’t take writers with solely short story collections, that one requires a novel. Where do you see short stories in future?

Not always true. There are a lot of great agents who are doing well with story collections. I think the need to tell stories is universal and I have no worries about the short story. We received over 20,000 submissions last year.

What is a muse?

In this day and age, I think the notion is antiquated and there are now multiple muses or points of inspiration for artists. More like the original Nine Muses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyme who represented all of the arts.

In 2012 at the PEN Festival closing Salman Rushdie said that books are an underrated technology, that they retain their data when dropped in a bathtub, how do you feel about online versus print? 

Stories are stories. I love the tactile feel of the book, the thisness of it. But I’ll read anywhere, anyhow.