In this interview, MFA nonfiction candidate Dodie Miller-Gould speaks with writer and Columbia professor Deborah Eisenberg. Eisenberg is the author of Your Duck is My Duck, forthcoming from Ecco/HarperCollins on September 25. Eisenberg’s work is polite but poignant. Her characters are drawn with an intelligence that engages readers.
Eisenberg is a MacArthur Foundation Fellow and also received a PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 2011, a Whiting Writer’s Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is the author of four collections of short stories.
Eisenberg is considered a “master” of the short story by numerous critics. Just reading the title story in Your Duck is My Duck was enough to make me want to know more about the writer whose assured reticence and control of the form was impressive and enthralling. Her stories unfold in a way so that even tense relationships are explored with a sort of graciousness. “Merge” and “Cross Off and Move On” from the latest collection are examples of this. Regardless of whether the people involved are personal assistant and employer, or family members, Eisenberg’s word choice and pacing invite readers to invest in the stories’ outcomes. Eisenberg is not a writer who toots her own horn; seemingly without preconceived notions about how her work is seen by others, Eisenberg creates a gentle tone during a conversation that readers will recognize from her stories.
Hello, and thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I enjoyed the collection very much.
Thank you. How kind of you to say.
When did you know that creative writing was something you wanted to do professionally?
I don’t think of myself as a professional writer. I started writing when I stopped smoking. I started writing at 30. My start was atypical. I didn’t expect to start writing. I was afraid to do anything that required courage or intelligence.
When you write, do you aim for a particular aesthetic, or do you let each story choose its own path?
I don’t start with an outline or an objective. It is an act of exploration.
Can you discuss your process for writing “Your Duck is My Duck?”
The same I always go about writing. I sat down and wrote.
Is there anything in particular you want to achieve with this story collection?
I wasn’t particularly interested in finishing a collection. I just wanted a piece of writing I was satisfied with.
What is next for you?
When I’m teaching, it takes up my time. I find it too frustrating so I just put [the writing] aside. In the winter, I hope I’ll be exploring with words again.
What do you want readers to take away from “Your Duck is My Duck?” What should they know about you as a writer?
I don’t think of myself in the abstract in that way. I just try to make each piece of writing as good as I can make it.
Photo Courtesy MacArthur Foundation