Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Elliott Holt on Michael Cunningham's style:
It makes sense that he would choose boots with a narrative

Photo by Joshua Simpson for FSG Work in Progress

A little while back, I asked Elliott Holt – whose first novel You Are One of Them will be published by The Penguin Press in 2013 – to contribute a piece to my Literary Style series. Luckily she accepted. Here she shares some thoughts on her mentor Michael Cunningham's style.

Michael Cunningham is a self-described "language crank," but his aesthetic sensibility also extends to his personal style. Michael was my teacher in the MFA program at Brooklyn College and I appreciate his clothes as much as his intellect. I had already devoured his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Hours, when I arrived for my first class with him in 2004. I was intimidated at first because Michael has presence. When he is in a room, it's hard to take your eyes off him. He is tall and rangy and ruggedly handsome. Every gesture is confident. He fills the space. One could easily mistake him for a rock star because he makes everything he wears look effortlessly cool. He is at home in a leather jacket. He tends to wear jeans, t-shirts, and boots. But not just any boots. He once told me that he buys them from an Austrian designer in Milan, who buries the boots in his backyard for a few weeks after he makes them to give them an authentic weathered appearance. It makes sense to me that Michael, whose writing shows such attention to craftsmanship, would choose boots with a narrative. I don't know the name of the designer, but I like to imagine his garden full of boots, their leather tongues mellowing in the soil, waiting to be harvested, waiting to hold feet. Michael says the boots "only get better with age." That's true of great literature, too.

Thank you, Elliott!

Previously on Literary Style: Zadie Smith, James Ellroy, Joan Didion (I & II), Simone de Beauvoir, Eudora Welty and Virginia Woolf (in a rented bathing suit).

8 comments:

  1. I did not have a mental picture of Michael Cunningham before this but I would not have imagined who dressed like that! (I don't mean that in a bad way.)

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    1. I spent most of yesterday doing various google searches on Austrian boot brands, couldn't find anything that fits the description. I am really curious what specific brand he wears, but couldn't even find any pictures of his that show his shoes.

      Be sure to click through to the FSG link above to see his bathroom library! It's pretty much the best thing ever!

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    2. It's kind of perfect how the coffee table in the photo perfectly obscures his shoes!

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  2. Such a wonderful piece of writing. The Hours is one of my favourite books. Literary Style - what a fantastic idea for a series!

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    1. I love it too. My hope for the series is that people who love fashion, can discover new layers of depth and meaning to it. And that book lovers would be curious to see how, to quote Elliott, their favorite writers' aesthetic sensibilities extend to their personal style.

      Email me (petya.grady at gmail) if you would be interested in contributing to the series yourself or if you have any authors in mind. I would be happy to write the piece

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  3. "Authentic weathered appearance", huh? Apparently authentic does mean what I think it means, anymore. ;)

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    1. I agree... Perhaps, a more accurate way to describe his work is as such that explores the concept of authenticity. It forces us to talk about what it means for an object to be authentic?

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