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News & Features » April 2013 » Literary Lions: 16 Questions with Joe Meno

Literary Lions: 16 Questions with Joe Meno

Johnny Temple: Who’s the first person who encouraged you to be a writer?Joe Meno

Joe Meno: I had a great English teacher, Mr. Neville, my sophomore year of high school. His was the only class during the four years of high school we were allowed to write anything creative in. He introduced me to Salinger and Faulkner.

JT: What is your biggest pet peeve?

JM: I’m not a big fan of the whole smartphones/texting thing when another actual human being is in the room with you. It’s pretty masturbatory, which is okay, as long as you’re doing it when you’re alone.

JT: What’s your most effective tactic for getting your children to sleep?

JM: We put them to sleep at the same time every night. When they were babies, we put them to bed and did not go back in, even if they started crying. So they go to bed without much of a hassle, though they are completely crazy in other ways.

JT: What book has given you nightmares, or otherwise appeared to you in dreams?

JM: I read Philip Roth’s Nemesis and it gave me a nightmare about contracting polio.

JT: What book(s) are you reading right now?

JM: Alejandro Zambra’s novella Bonsai and George Saunders’s story collection Tenth of December.

JT: What’s the last reading you have attended featuring an author you don’t personally know?

JM: I heard some great work at the Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference in Florida—Tim O’Brien, Dito Montiel, Deborah Reed. I went up and introduced myself to everyone afterward.

JT: What is the worst film adaptation of a great book that you have ever seen?

JM: If I really love a book, I usually don’t end up seeing the movie. I’ve heard Beloved is pretty bad . . .

JT: Have you ever been to a town hall meeting?

JM: No. I feel like I should have. But during the 2009 healthcare debate, old people were shouting at various town halls and people were bringing guns. That’s what I think of when I hear town hall, old people yelling and other people with guns. They could be giving away cake at a town hall and I might never go.

JT: Who’s your favorite author (or book) that no one’s ever heard of?

JM: Zazie in the Metro by Raymond Queneau. It’s a French New Wave novel about a girl who comes to Paris and wants to ride the subway but various obstacles get in her way. It’s absurdly hilarious and surprisingly touching.

JT: Who’s your favorite author that everyone’s heard of? 

JM: To my mind, William Faulkner is the best writer America’s produced. Then there are folks like Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, Donald Barthelme, Ray Bradbury, Thornton Wilder, Gabriel García Márquez. I’ve ripped all those people off, badly.

JT: If you could invite one living person to dinner, who would it be?

JM: Rachel Maddow or the filmmaker/designer Mike Mills. I thought his movie Beginners was stellar. I sometimes fantasize about having really smart, famous friends who I do smart, famous things with. Make movies. Make fun of other people at smart people parties. But that also feels like a lot of work. Like you would have to plan some topics for conversation beforehand. Then I realize if you are thinking like that, you probably have no business having smart, famous friends.

JT: Who (living) do you wish would invite YOU to dinner?

JM: President Obama.

JT: Do you avoid high school and college reunions or do you embrace them?

JM: I’ve never gone to one. I know I’m old. I don’t need it shoved in my face.

JT: What’s your favorite single-syllable word?

JM: Art.

JT: If you could make up a word, what would it be? No definitions permitted.

JM: My kids do this all day. They have a word, “goke.” I still haven’t figured out what it means but I am pretty sure they are making fun of me.

JT: What existing word would you prefer had a different definition? State word and redefine.

JM: I’m going to go with “goke.” The new definition would be “a really cool, semi-balding dad.”


JOE MENO is a fiction writer and playwright who lives in Chicago. He is a winner of the Nelson Algren Literary Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Great Lakes Book Award, and was a finalist for the Story Prize. He is the author of multiple novels and short story collections including Hairstyles of the Damned, The Great Perhaps, How the Hula Girl Sings, The Boy Detective Fails, Tender as Hellfire, Demons in the Spring, and Office Girl.

Posted: Apr 10, 2013

Category: Literary Lions | Tags: , , , , , , , ,