Like Shaking Hands with God. A conversation about writing, Kurt Vonnegut & Lee Stringer
On 1st October, 1988, an event took place at a Bookstore in Union Square, Manhattan, where one of America’s most established and revered writers, Kurt Vonnegut, whose final novel Timequake had been published in 1997, and emerging talent, Lee Stringer, whom Vonnegut championed and compared to Jack London and whose debut novel Grand Central Winter was released in 1998, discussed how and why they write. The book Like Shaking Hands with God not only transcribes this public conversation that Vonnegut described as ‘a magical evening,’ but also a more private and intimate one that took place in January 1999 over lunch at the Café de Paris.
In course of their fascinating and absorbing conversations these two writers, who both draw heavily on their own experiences, discussed the need for sincerity in writing, art before commercial concerns and their interest in the study of humanity over trying to be overtly political and champion a cause. They also see writing as a gift and reflected on its redemptive power, which is particularly striking Stringer’s case. The title of the book, which comes from a quote from Stringer, describes how he felt when he finally figured out how he was going to write his novel. Stringer, a former homeless crack-addict, awakened his talent for writing when one day he ran out of drugs and in his frustration decided to use the pencil he used for pushing screens into his crack-pipe for its intended purpose. Once he started using the pencil for writing, he didn’t stop until five hours later.
What also emerges from this book is the huge admiration and affection these two had for one another; not only as writers, but also as men.
The first edition of Like Shaking Hands with God in the photographs was published by Seven Stories Press in 1999. The photographs of Kurt Vonnegut together with Lee Stringer were taken by Art Shay.
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