Stuart Dybek is a Illinois-based poet and short story writer.
I Sailed With Magellan, The Coast of Chicago, Streets in Their Own Ink
1995 PEN/Malamud award; numerous O. Henry Prizes
Which one or two American books or plays would you recommend to the foreign leaders? Briefly, why?
Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, Hemingway's Collected Stories, Flannery O'Connor's Collected Stories, the Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, the Collected Poems of T.S. Eliot, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.
Who in your childhood–for example, parent or teacher—encouraged you to read books, and which one or two books do you remember most fondly?
My mother made it a practice to read aloud to my brother David and me at bedtime. She read authors whose likeness appeared on "Authors," a card game we played. The pictures of the authors—Poe, Dickens, Sir Walter Scott—fascinated me. The book I most remember was Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I thought it would bore me to listen to a story about girls (how my mother longed for a daughter!) but I was totally caught up by the story. As much as I loved the books my mother read, the books that made the greatest impression were those that I would hide away under my bed along with a flashlight to read at night when I was supposed to be sleeping. Reading never seemed more subversive or dangerous. Many of the books involved modes of transportation, especially over water, and my bed would become Huck Finn's raft, the ship in Treasure Island, the ship in Jack London's Sea Wolf and the balloon in what was my favorite book, Jules Verne's Mysterious Island.
Which books by writers of the other G8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, Russia) have affected you as a reader and/or been most important to you as a writer?
There are far too many books by the many writers from G8 countries to name, so I will record only a sampling: French modernists have had an enormous influence on me, the poets in particular, from Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, and Apollinaire, through the surrealists and the post-World War II generation that includes Pierre Reverdy and René Char, and prose poem writers such as Jean Follain and Max Jacob. Russian writers of the 19th and 20th centuries—all the classics, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and especially Isaac Babel, and also the poets—Pasternak and Mandelstam, in particular—along with Alexander Blok, Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetaeva, etc. And I should also include the incredible richness of Russian folk tales and proverbs. Though neither writer was German, Kafka, one of my favorite of all writers, wrote in German as did the great poet, Paul Celan, and, of course, Rilke. Two of my favorite writers are Ligurian, Eugenio Montale and Italo Calvino. I also love Italian fabulists such as Dino Buzzati and Tommaso Landolfi. Italian 20th-century poets, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Salvatore Quasimodo, etc. have been important writers for me, as has Primo Levi. And I am grateful for the many good translations of Dante and more recently Jonathan Galassi's inspired translation of Leopardi. My two favorite Japanese writers are Yasunari Kawabata and Jun'ichirō Tanizaki. I have read everything available in English by these writers and I never stop reading haiku. One of my favorite of all critical books on writing is Traces of Dreams by Haruo Shirane, and of course I am a fan of Haruki Murakami. As for the United Kingdom, it is impossible really to even summarize—Joyce, Greene, Yeats, Heaney, D.H. Lawrence, Conrad—one might begin with Beowulf and simply work forward through the glorious centuries.