Interview conducted by Megan Neary
Greg Gerke is the author of the essay collection See What I See, the book of short stories Only the Bad Things, and many stories and essays that can be found in various publications, including Tin House, The Kenyon Review, and 3AM Magazine. He is also the editor of the new literary journal Socrates on the Beach.
Gerke said he created Socrates on the Beach because “he wanted to make a place that was more open to long form work,” adding, “I’d been thinking a lot, just ‘cause of my own writing, with mostly submitting longer essays, people don’t typically take them.” So far, there have been two issues of the magazine. He said his “favorite thing has been being introduced to writers I did not know…I’m really excited to find those new writers and I hope publishing them can help on their writing path.” According to Gerke, Socrates on the Beach “is about literature. It’s not really about politics. I wanted to kind of get away from that.”
One of the writers who has appeared in Socrates on the Beach is Joseph McElroy, whom Gerke counts among his favorite living writers. McElroy has published nine novels, including Plus and Women and Men. Gerke said McElroy “writes in a very special way, kind of maybe as special as a Faulkner or a Henry James… there’s probably nothing like it in American literature.” Gerke plans to write a long essay on McElroy this year.
In addition to writing essays, Gerke is working on revising a novel called In the Suavity of the Rock. About the novel he said, “people will say it’s autofiction, but I’ve tried to almost detonate a bomb in autofiction because there are certain correspondences in my life, but then I make up other things.” He is also “faintly planning another essay book” that will focus on art, literature, and film. Gerke has also written another novel that he described as “a New York novel with three main characters.” The characters are a film critic, a scholar, and a homeless outreach worker—three roles that Gerke has played in his own life. He said, “it’s kind of a Seinfeld thing, but serious too, and funny, hopefully.” The novel clocks in at 700 pages, which Gerke feels may be too long to attract interest, but he hopes “it’ll see the light of day sometime.”
One of the authors who has most influenced Gerke is William Gass, who wrote essays, short stories, and novels, including Omensetter’s Luck. Gerke said, “when I read him… it really touched something and luckily he was still alive and I went to interview him and that was really important—to experience him after experiencing all of the work…just to see him how he lived, it was just, it was…very influential.” One aspect of Gass’ writing that Gerke seeks to emulate in his own is the “exuberance” with which he wrote.
Gerke also sees a connection between the writing he does and the films he loves, saying, “there seems to be a rythm in sentences… related to cutting in film and editing in narrative film and, you know, the words you use are kind of camera positions—if it moves or not, what’s in the frame.” “There is kind of a connection in a way, I think it’s hard to replicate…great directors in words, but I mean, I can read an essay by Emerson, take one of his older essays, like Fate or Power, and I can see images from Terrence Malick films.” He added, “In the vaunted shot of the camera coming at ground-level toward the mother on the salt flats, I hear the adamantine language of Emerson—the same sublime.”
Gerke’s advice to writers is to “read everything, read widely: poetry, philosophy, Shakespeare, Dante, all the people you would think to read, that would be the people to read.” Adding, “it’s good to read things that are alien and strange—they challenge you.” But, he says, “I wouldn’t read anything just because it’s difficult, it has to be beautiful too.” He gives Shakespeare as an example “it’s amazing every time, that he wrote this thing and there’s so much beauty in it that you just go running, leaping with joy.”
About the Interviewer: Megan Neary is a co-founding editor of Flyover Country, and a writer and fifth grade teacher in Columbus, Ohio. Her recent work can be found in The Cleveland Review of Books, The Schuykill Valley Journal, and The Amethyst Review.