"Sentences Are Painful to Make": An Interview with Kyle Minor
May 22, 2021
Gulf Coast Fiction Editor Colby Ornell had a chance to chat with recent contributor Kyle Minor, whose story “Mild Blue Dream” appears in Issue 33.2. Kyle shared some of his photography, as well as his favorite jazz albums, TV shows, films, and writers.
Kyle Minor is the author of Praying Drunk, winner of the 2015 Story Prize Spotlight Award. His three recent novellas appear in Story, Booth, and Missouri Review.
Colby Ornell: In addition to your work in fiction, you also work in film and photography. I'm wondering if you could speak to how you decide on a genre or form, or how the process of craft changes between fiction, film, and photography?
Kyle Minor: One great thing about working with cameras is how you find yourself in places you wouldn’t otherwise be. In the last few years I’ve been able to spend time with opioid users, active and not, at nuclear sites in Hiroshima and New Mexico, in the red-hot centers of American electoral politics, in the homes of women who have lost children, in the marches on Washington, and so on. It’s a privilege when people let you into their lives and teach you.
I used to have a lot of answers about how things ought to be made, but lately I feel like I’m starting over every time I start a new project. One thing I like about video and photography is that words are subordinate to images. For a long time I’ve been having hard feelings toward words. Sentences are painful to make, and we now live in a culture in which the words are made into minefields after they’re spoken or typed. I feel a lot more freedom with images, which convey their complications without words. I don’t think I really did much to answer your good question.
I can say that one thing about filmmaking that has a lot to teach writers is the craft of editing. There’s a great book of conversations about this, between legendary editor Walter Murch and novelist Michael Ondaatje. I also recommend seeking out any interviews you can find with the greatest film editor of all time, Thelma Schoonmaker. I’ve learned a lot from listening to her.
"Untitled" from the series Scott County, Indiana. Photo courtesy of the author.
CO: Your website notes a list of Fifty Favorite Jazz Albums (*updated monthly). What's your current top album and why?
KM: I never listened to jazz until the pandemic started. I saw a documentary about the saxophone, and then I started listening to the artists from the documentary. Also, my older son had a friend who was going to Berklee College of Music, and suddenly I was hearing Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme coming out of his speakers, and I wanted to know more about them. So I started listening to jazz records, especially from 1959-1970, and I started reading biographies of the leading figures. I don’t know why it took me so long to find out about this music. All of a sudden, my life is enriched by Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Nina Simone, McCoy Tyner, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver . . . this list will get long pretty quickly. I don’t think I can settle on just one, but here’s a short list of albums that preoccupy and delight:
1. Illumination!, by the Jimmy Garrison/Elvin Jones Sextet. (This is, more or less, John Coltrane’s great quartet, but with Coltrane replaced by three journeyman horns playing way above their head.)
2. Brilliant Corners, Thelonious Monk. (This is his masterpiece, which is saying a lot. The title track and the best recorded version of “Bemsha Swing” are here.)
3. Pastel Blues, Nina Simone. (She has a lot of masterpieces, but if you want to hear just one track, check out the ten-minute version of “Sinnerman,” which features an incredible hand clap solo.)
4. Ole, John Coltrane. (Recorded in one sitting so Coltrane could get out of his contract with Atlantic. Coltrane was in a drone phase, sometimes carried by two bassists, and it seems like he was at the time interested in Spanish scales. Formal elements from the title track were ripped off to create the sound of The Doors.)
5. The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, Charles Mingus (A through-composed album in four movements, to accompany dancers. Like a lot of Mingus — and for that matter, like a lot of Miles Davis or Gil Evans or Herbie Hancock — it’s unclear to me whether it’s exactly right to describe this as jazz, but jazz is so elastic it can accommodate things much further afield.)
If you’re not already tired of me being enthusiastic at length about this stuff, I could also recommend Robin Kelley’s biography Thelonious Monk: Life and Times of an American Original.
CO: Aside from jazz, what have you been reading, watching, or listening to through the pandemic?
KM: A few TV/movie things I could recommend:
1. Carlos (the five-and-a-half hour film version, if you can find it), by Olivier Assayas.
2. The Last Thing She Wanted, by Dee Rees (based on the Joan Didion novel).
3. Parasite, by Bong Joon Ho.
4. Steve McQueen’s Small Axe movies, on Amazon.
5. The Narcos & Ozarks series, on Netflix.
6. Uncut Gems, Good Time, and Heaven Knows What, by the Safdies.
7. Some other directors that interest me right now: Marielle Heller, Chloe Zhao, Claire Denis, Martin Scorsese, Kelly Reichardt.
1. Yiyun Li is a writer more people should read. The place to start, I think, is her early essay “What Has That To Do With Me,” which is about the Cultural Revolution, and which has as much to say to Americans in 2021. I’m paying close attention to everything she writes.
2. Lynsey Addario’s memoir It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War.
3. Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, another lost classic we’ll ignore at our own peril.
4. The Tusk that Did the Damage, by Tania James.
5. Some poets: Natalie Shapero, Michelle Burke, Letitia Trent, Douglas Watson, Carrie Shipers, Mary Biddinger, Nikki Wallschlaeger, Abraham Smith, Joyelle McSweeney, Mitchell L.H. Douglas, Karen Kovacik, Wislawa Szymborska, Frank Stanford, C.D. Wright, Bob Hicok, Natasha Trethewey.