“When you’re writing a profile, you walk into the situation not as a self, but as a person who is going to give yourself over to the subject. You listen constructively, and you don’t interrupt the emotional panorama of what’s happening. You morph with the storytelling. You’re engaged on a level where you become part of their consciousness.”
-Hilton Als, episode 317 of Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso
Today, we’re joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and critic Hilton Als! To begin, we unpack his approach to writing profiles (5:50), inspired by the words of photographer Diane Arbus (6:10), and how he captured Prince in a new, two-part memoir entitled My Pinup (7:55). Then, Als reflects on his upbringing in Brownsville, Brooklyn (10:25), a timely passage from his 2020 essay “Homecoming” (14:40), and formative works by writers Adrienne Kennedy (20:58) and the late Joan Didion (27:05).
On the back-half, we discuss the interplay of memory and writing (36:38), Hilton’s writing routine (40:55), his sources of hope today (44:30), and to close, a passage from Jean Rhys’ unfinished autobiography Smile Please (48:25).
- See Hilton’s exhibition Joan Didion: What She Means at the Hammer Museum.
- Order his new book, My Pinup: A Paean to Prince.
- Follow him on Instagram.
- Learn about the works referenced in this talk: A Movie Star Has to Start in Black and White by Adrienne Kennedy, A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion, White Girls by Hilton Als, and Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography by Jean Rhys.
- For more conversations, hear our talks with Margo Jefferson, Kehinde Wiley, Ocean Vuong, Marina Abramović, Antwaun Sargent, George Saunders, and Jennifer Egan.
- Order your Talk Easy mug in cream and navy or our vinyl record with Fran Lebowitz.
Original illustration by Krishna Shenoi. Reference image by Ali Smith.
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