Paris Review

Promiscuity Is a Virtue: An Interview with Garth Greenwell

Garth-Greenwell

Garth Greenwell interviewed by Ilya Kaminsky in The Paris Review.

I don’t know how much these distinctions exist for me. Certainly I think the conversation of art doesn’t care about them very much. I’ve always been turned off by a kind of assertive Americanism, and the American writers I love best, from Hawthorne and James and Baldwin to Alexander Chee and Yiyun Li, have all been cosmopolitan in their tastes and views. Of course, America is important to my writing—the landscape of the American South, the rhythms of American speech, the expansive, sometimes-redemptive, sometimes-toxic sense of American selfhood.

What it means to be American is one of the subjects of my books, as it is of any book about Americans abroad. Bulgaria is important to the books, too. I was speaking Bulgarian every day as I wrote What Belongs to You. Often enough, I spoke only Bulgarian. The rhythms of Bulgarian—the most beautiful, the most musical language in the world, so far as I’m concerned—are part of those sentences, as is the cityscape of Mladost, the quarter of Sofia where I lived, which I also think is very beautiful, though maybe with a difficult kind of beauty.