Siri Hustvedt on Djuna Barnes and Nightwood

American novelist and essayist acknowledges the influences of Barnes and her work
Solita Solano and Djuna Barnes
From NPR (thanks to Cathryn Setz for the link):
The spring after I turned 24, I discovered Nightwood by Djuna Barnes, a slender, dense novel that I read with the aching intensity of a person possessed.

It wasn't about my world — I had grown up in a small town in Minnesota and then moved to New York City. Nightwood is set mostly in a Paris Barnes knew intimately in the 1920s, a city inhabited by ex-pats, drifters and poseurs. And yet, the story of passion and grief, of exile and loneliness, spoke directly to me, a young woman who, for some reason, had never felt she quite belonged anywhere.

I carried the book around with me, reread passages, pondered their meanings, and suffered with Nora Flood, whose liaison with the wild, amoral Robin Vote, becomes her abiding anguish. And I pored over the speeches delivered by my favorite character, the novel's bombastic but tender bard, Dr. Matthew O'Connor — a cross-dresser, petty thief, inveterate liar and tragic anti-hero.

One afternoon, that same spring, I found myself sitting next to an elderly woman on the subway. She looked down at the volume in my lap, and said, "Oh, Djuna Barnes. I know her. Would you like to write to her?" She gave me the author's address, and I sat down to write a page-long testament to the power of Nightwood.

A year and a half later, I received a reply: "Your letter," Barnes wrote, "has given me great difficulty."

That was all. A couple of months later, I read in the newspaper that the 90-year-old Barnes was dead. I realized that her letter to me must have been one of the last things she wrote. [Read More]

Find on Amazon: US | UK

Also at A Piece of Monologue: