Culture & Conversation

Overshoot Spectacularly, Undershoot With Restraint

Drew Nelles is a Montreal-based writer. His journalism and fiction have appeared in places like the Globe and Mail, National Post, Walrus, Reader’s Digest, n+1, BULLETT and Hazlitt.

He recently served as the editor-in-chief of Maisonneuve. This National Magazine of the Year (2012) merges the artistry of a literary quarterly with the social eye of a political journal. It is one of the magazines I don’t mind forking money over for, a testament to their unique, daring content.

Last year I was curating literature for Ribbon Pig, an imprint of local art-book publishers Maison Kasini. The other editors and I stumbled upon Drew’s story The Off Season, which we unanimously decided was awesome. We published the story and it is now available for purchase through Ribbon Pig’s web site.

The Off Season assured me that Drew’s knack for language is excitingly multi-faceted.

Drew also read at the last installment of the This Is Happening Whether You Like It Or Not reading series Guillaume Morissette and I threw. The crowd was a rowdy (drunk) bunch, but Drew managed to pull off a great, no-bullshit reading with effortless poise.

Here, Drew gives us insight into what he’s reading, where his favorite place to write is, which authors have impacted him to most and more.

Hello. Who are you?
There was a time when I thought I knew the answer to this question, but that time is long gone.

What have you been reading?

Right now I’m reading Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. I just finished Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz. I started The Enigma of Capital by David Harvey a while ago and picked it up again. I finished Things Fall Apart a day or two before Chinua Achebe died. At any given time, you’ll find me reading an unhealthy amount of magazine journalism.

Why do you write?
Material gain.

Where is your favorite place to write?
Last summer, I did the Literary Journalism Program at the Banff Centre. In the program, you work on a single long essay for a month, but, before you go, you’re supposed to complete a first draft. So, for a week and a half in June, I rented a desk in a little basement studio that some friends ran in Mile End, at the corner of Jeanne-Mance and Fairmount. I arrived every morning, bought a coffee at Arts Café, wrote five hundred words, took a break for lunch outside in the sunlight, wrote another five hundred words, and went home. It was in the middle of a heat wave, and I remember the feeling of sitting in this cool, dark basement, wearing a tank top and cutoff jean shorts, churning out this essay, drinking coffees and Arizona Iced Teas. The internet connection was shoddy, which really helped my productivity. By the end of that week and a half, I had over 11,000 words. I loved writing in that room, during that time.

What books or authors have impacted you the most?
If I’m being honest, probably, like, Rudyard Kipling and Michael Crichton, considering how many times I must have read Just So Stories and Congo as a child. As a teenager I loved the obvious Great Men: Camus, Hemingway, Fitzgerald. The thinkers I read as an impressionable political-theory and philosophy undergraduate: Kropotkin, Marx, Sorel, Fanon, de Beauvoir, Butler. Most of my favourite contemporary writers work in non-fiction: David Grann, Elif Batuman, Kristin Dombek.

What is good writing?
Writing that succeeds within its own confines; writing that knows what it wants to do and does it. Writing that overshoots spectacularly or undershoots with restraint.

Do you have any favorite words?
Acquiesce, sibilance, debt.

Could you recommend 3 books?




The Last Book That Made Me Simultaneously Laugh Out Loud And Get Aroused On The Metro: Indecision by Benjamin Kunkel





The Last Book That Made Me Feel Less Alone In My Aloneness: I Love Dick by Chris Kraus






The Book That My Roommate Is Currently Reading To Me While I Take Baths And She Perches On The Toilet Seat: The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis by Lydia Davis


(Photo of Drew Nelles by Lisan Jutras)

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