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Powell’s Q&A: Kevin Sampsell

Describe your latest book/project/work.
A Common Pornography is an odd little thing. It started out as a book of funny or odd memories from my childhood into adulthood and then it turned kind of dark after my dad died and I found out all these weird stories about him. The book is made up of very short chapters, which I think gives it a unique feel.

One thing that surprises me is how so many different kinds of people have related to my stories or have similar stories that they recall when reading my book.One thing that surprises me is how so many different kinds of people have related to my stories or have similar stories that they recall when reading my book. After people read it, they come up to me and say, "I remember a time when we did that too." In that way, it's been a really rewarding experience for me to put these stories out there.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I'm a little bit of a freak when it comes to doughnuts. I get excited when I discover doughnut shops anywhere, especially when I'm travelling. So I'd have to say one of my favorite jobs ever was working at the Spudnut Shop in Richland, Washington, when I was 19. I had to get up at four in the morning and we made our doughnuts from potato flour. They were awesome. Somehow I didn't get fat. You can read about some of these experiences in my book. It's a pretty sexy time period for me (hahaha) so I even had to change some names!

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Miriam Toews is like a rock star in Canada but she is underappreciated here in the U.S. Her work is mostly sweet and clever but also surprisingly tough or sad at times and she can be laugh-out-loud funny. A Complicated Kindness is one of my favorite books ever and one I always recommend to people. Her latest, The Flying Troutmans, is also wonderful and has some of the best dialogue anywhere. Once, when she was in town, I told her I was going to start a Facebook fan page for her, but I haven't yet (as far as I can tell, she is not on any of those social networking sites). Maybe someone else will do that now. If so, I will join that group ASAP!

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
Gary Lutz is my all-time favorite writer and his work is full of sentences and passages that are like beautifully intricate diamonds. Here, from Stories in the Worst Way, is the opening of his story, "The Bride:"

If this is to be a story instead of what it was initially intended to be — an answer to the question of how you go about finding an outlet for what you are not sure is in there to begin with — then there might as well be two women instead of just one and, for a change, just the one man, who is no longer the one I threw my body away on but just somebody where I work, somebody with little say over what it is I do, which, I gather, is to look lonely from afar.

How do you relax?
Besides reading and making books, you mean? I chill out a lot with my son and my girlfriend at home. There are some TV shows we're suckers for (Community, 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights, any true crime thing) and we watch a lot of movies — my son is 15 so we're watching all those great teen movies from the '80s again.

But I also really love watching football. My love of football has actually grown immensely in the last two years since my favorite team, the Arizona Cardinals, has gotten a lot better. I'm a bit obsessive when it comes to reading scouting reports, watching the NFL draft, and downloading highlights every week. There's a bar right by Powell's called Blitz and a bunch of Cardinals fans have started hanging out there this season. I go there for games most of the time and we all yell and high five and everything. It's such a geeky but beautiful thing.

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
There are so many great breakfast places in Portland, it's kind of ridiculous.There are so many great breakfast places in Portland, it's kind of ridiculous. I think the best bacon I've had is the pecan maple bacon at Screen Door, the best pancakes I've had are the white chocolate hazelnut pancakes at Genie's, and the best biscuits and gravy I've had is at Bertie Lou's, over there in the Sellwood neighborhood.

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
I like people who are enigmatic. Calvin Johnson, who started K Records and has been in several bands, was one of my first inspirations for starting Future Tense Books, the micropress I run. I also really liked Ian Svenonious in his Nation of Ulysses days. Harmony Korine for his movies and writing, David Lynch, Devo, and the late poet Steven Jesse Bernstein. I'm inspired by weirdos, I guess you could say.

Do you read blogs? What are some of your favorites?
There are a few I really like. is really fun and full of great literary news, leaning more to the small press side of things. Stephen Elliott's The Rumpus is outstanding too. One of my favorite writers, Jeff Johnson, has a really funny blog called Fitted Sweats, though I wish he'd update it more often.

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
Five great small press books from my section at Powell's that I will always love and recommend:

Letters to Wendy's by Joe Wenderoth (insane, beautiful, a little disturbing)

Oedipus Wrecked by Kevin Keck (one of the dirtiest and funniest books ever)

Wide Eyed by Trinie Dalton (wonderfully weird)

Partial List of People To Bleach by Gary Lutz (yeah, I published this masterful showcase of Lutz)

The Man Suit by Zachary Schomburg (my favorite Portland poet)

÷ ÷ ÷

Kevin Sampsell runs the small press section at Powell's and is the publisher of his own micro-press, Future Tense Books. His books include Creamy Bullets, Portland Noir, and the memoir A Common Pornography.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Portland Noir (Akashic Noir)
    Used Trade Paper $7.95
  2. A Common Pornography: A Memoir
    Used Trade Paper $5.50
  3. The Flying Troutmans Signed 1st Edition
    Sale Hardcover $8.50
  4. A Complicated Kindness
    Used Trade Paper $7.50
  5. Stories in the Worst Way Sale Trade Paper $3.95
  6. Oedipus Wrecked Used Trade Paper $4.50
  7. Letters to Wendy's Used Trade Paper $6.95
  8. Wide Eyed (Little House on the Bowery) Used Trade Paper $10.50

  9. Man Suit Used Trade Paper $8.95

Kevin Sampsell is the author of A Common Pornography: A Memoir

One Response to "Powell’s Q&A: Kevin Sampsell"

    Sara January 21st, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    This post gave me all kinds of ideas for what to read next. I'm participating in's Cannonball Read challenge, where we are to read 52 books in a year.

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