THE CHARACTERS in Justin Taylor's lauded debut story collection have much in common with one another—they're young and addled, generally—but from such a narrow spectrum Taylor wrings an impressive array of emotional experiences. We interviewed the 27-year-old Taylor about his short story collection, his upcoming novel, anarchism, and the blog HTML Giant, to which he is a contributor.
MERCURY: According to your publicist, I should ask you "what people your age are reading and how they are reading it."
JUSTIN TAYLOR: Umm... I write for this literary blog called HTML Giant, which is in a lot of ways sort of the epicenter of independent press and online literature. It's pretty anarchic, which I think is to its advantage, but certain patterns do emerge. I think the so-called Gordon Lish school that was sort of written off a few years ago is back in ascendancy, and a lot of people are realizing that those guys were onto something—Gary Lutz, Barry Hannah, Dawn Raffel, Christine Schutt. Other than that? Everyone agrees that Tao Lin is important. Some people love him and some people hate him, but... there's a consensus of importance, if not a consensus of value.
Why do you write so frequently about people who are around your age?
Those age ranges and those kinds of experiences interest me because they're fresh, they resonate still, or are in fact resonating presently. It's not exactly just writing what you know, but it's something in that vein. I've never been struck by the historical novel research bug, to go learn everything about Chinese 17th century court, or whatever... although I've kind of been telling people that, in a weird way, [my upcoming novel] actually is historical fiction.
Tell me a bit more about the novel.
The novel is set in north central Florida, in Gainesville, in the summer of 1999. It's about a group of anarchists who live together in a big punk-rock house, and they happen to found a religion based on the diary of a hobo who used to live in their backyard. They are an outcast group of anarchists, because they're interested in theology and the sort of spiritual dimension of the political... and so out of this weird combination of the political and the religious, they're basically trying to synthesize anarchism and Christianity.
A couple of the stories in Everything are about anarchists as well—what is it about anarchism that captures your interest?
What interests me about anarchism and bodies of utopian thought in general... I think they're so beautiful, in a very real way, in that they're based on a belief that people can be their best selves without being forced to be. The anarchists would say we don't need government to prevent tyranny and do this and that. Government foments these things. All these social ills that government is there to mitigate and prevent would themselves be removed if we removed government. And if we can get out from under their thumb or we can remove their pollutants from the water supply, then we'll see what it means to be a society. I don't know if that's possible, I don't know if I believe it, but I do think it's beautiful, and I like very much to think about it.