Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?
John Jeremiah Sullivan: The book is made up of pieces that were written over a twelve-year period, and each of them had its own inspiration. (Some were touched off by music, some by history, some by personal memories.) But they also share an inspiration in common: a desire to understand the American soul at this moment in time, not an especially pretty moment in our story, but in other ways very dramatic, very striking. The project of the book is one of redemption, trying to salvage something. All of the essays have that in common.
JJS: The whole writing process is one of continual surprise to me. I often feel like a goldfish that, by the time it hits the glass wall of the tank, has forgotten about the plastic castle it passed. Every piece and every book presents new problems, new in the sense that you haven't seen them. This means that the stuff you've learned won't necessarily serve you. That's what it feels like when the writing is going well. I've learned to accept panic and confusion as signs that all is proceeding normally. If it feels old hat to me, it probably feels that way to the reader too.
JJS: Homeless. (I have no other marketable skill.)
JJS: I have been re-reading and re-reading "Absalom, Absalom!" for the past month. I'm supposed to write the introduction to it, for the new Modern Library edition. This is for me an intimidating task. I revere Faulkner.
JJS: A lot of traveling for New York Times Magazine pieces--to Cuba, to Rio, to my home state of Kentucky (where they are in the process of rebuilding Noah's Ark, to the cubit, with state tax-incentives). Also I am trying to finish a non-fiction book that I've been working on for many years (almost fifteen years). It has to do with a forgotten Utopian who came to the South in the early 18th century and tried to found an enlightenment city among the Cherokee Indians.
MORE VIDEO:Jeff Glor talks to John Jeremiah Sullivan about his book, "Pulphead: Essays," and how he draws inspiration from teen culture. Farrar, Straus and Giroux website.