The Austin Chronicle

Mat Johnson on Writing

The author of Loving Day and Pym on learning to accept that he writes funny

By Wayne Alan Brenner, June 19, 2015, Arts

You'd think a man with so many books under his authorial belt, a man who's already won both the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, you'd think he might be just a skoshie blasé about reviews by now. But, at least when the man is Mat Johnson – who's the author of eight books and who's won those awards – blasé is in short supply.

"Review time is always petrifying for me," says the author, who's also a creative writing professor at the University of Houston. "Because, to be honest, I feel like my balls are hanging out there and I don't know whether they're gonna get licked or kicked. I'm in the dark, waiting to see what the response is gonna be."

Our own response is the review on this page, which Johnson hadn't seen when we interviewed him before his appearance at BookPeople June 1. But we did mention that we enjoyed how damned funny his novels are – and what's up with that?

"When Pym came out," says Johnson, "I didn't realize it was funny. I knew that there were parts that were funny, certain scenes that were funny, but I didn't realize that the overwhelming thing – because I'm writing it in three-to-five-page chunks, and it just adds up, you know? And writing funny isn't hard for me. It's the other stuff that's hard. I'm constantly thinking about, argh, how am I gonna pull this off, how do I make this character an individual, how do I work on this narrative part? With Loving Day, I finally accepted that I'm writing funny books. It's like, 'Don't fight against it, just accept it, and let's keep going.'"

And to see that interview, dear reader (which is loaded with writerly insights and industry palaver), it's available online at

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