Ander Monson: Witty Writer Talks Vandalism, Libraries, and eBook Technology

By Meaghan Menzel
Copy Editor
On Nov. 4, the Rose O’Neill Literary House hosted the second Poets Writing the Lyrical Essay series’ reading with Ander Monson.
“Ander Monson seems to be the very definition of a renaissance man,” Dr. Jehanne Dubrow said. “He is able to do it all: poet, essayist, fiction writer, web designer, editor, teacher.”
According to The University of Arizona Poetry Center website, Monson is the author of “a decoder wheel, chapbooks, broadsides, an extensive website, and other media. He is the founder and editor of “Diagram,” one of the first online literary journals. Monson is also the founder and editor of ‘New Michigan Press.’ ”
He has written five books including “Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir,” “The Available World,” and his upcoming book, “Letter to a Future Lover.” His work has been featured in The New York Times and “Best American Essays” series, and he received a Howard Foundation Fellowship from Brown University. He teaches at the University of Arizona.

Monson was a guest at the Rose O’ Niell Literary house on Nov. 4 where he discussed his upcoming work “Letter to a Future Lover.”
Monson was a guest at the Rose O’ Niell Literary house on Nov. 4 where he discussed his upcoming work “Letter to a Future Lover.”

For this reading, Monson read mostly from his book “Letter to a Future Lover” and used overhead visuals. Senior Rebecca Homer said, “I liked the use of the visuals and how he tends to connect visuals with the form [of his work].”
Monson said that the form of this book is a box filled with “a bunch of cards. It can be read in any order you want, designed to be read in whatever order you want. They’re all short essays. My limitation was to write essays that were short enough to fit on the front and back side of a six by nine card, the thinking being these are essays about libraries.”
Unfortunately, it was not considered practical to  get the book published exclusively in this form, so he made “limited editions” for himself. This book will be available as an EPUB and a hardcover. His creativity with genre and form, according to Dr. Dubrow, “makes us see what formal risks we can take as readers and writers.”
“I was spending all this time in libraries looking for stuff and finding things you can’t find in a PDF or an eBook. I mean, sometimes [it was] just evidence of use, the previous readers’ marginalia… So what I would do is I would write about it in this sort of short form and publish it back into the book where I found it,” Monson said.
One example that he wrote an essay on includes what a woman left in a copy of Jerry Snider’s “Turtle Island.” “It’s this spectacular inscription… from this woman who had a spectacular sexual experience with this man 20 years ago,” Monson said. “They hooked up again, and she gave him this book that she wrote this three page inscription, including ‘when we went to your friend’s house with a nocturnal monkey-like animal and then dropped acid and made love on the golf course.’”
Another example includes comments a man wrote in the “Gay & Lesbian Biography” at the University of Arizona. Monson said, “This guy… defaced something like 300 books at the University of Arizona library. What he would do is he would take the books and write racist, homophobic whatever on them. …What became really obvious as I continued to read the defacements was how he revealed himself through the defacements unintentionally… it becomes really obvious… that this is a guy who is gay [and] in the closet all his life. He’s in his sixties, and he’s really deeply angered by this book, by these people who are gay and who have come to terms with that in some way.”
“This is the kind of thing that if you got a PDF or bought the EPUB, you’d have no opportunity for this interaction with this kind of crazy dude,” Monson said.
Monson said he also has an essay on his findings at the Learning Games Initiative Research Archive in Tucson, Ariz., “which is also known as the Video Games Library.”  He also wrote on his findings from the card catalogues of the oldest public library in Arizona, The Copper Queen Library. “[In] one drawer… are these books written by I think sixth graders. They’re not real books. They’re just cards for books that they made up such as ‘Unicorn with Gold Horn and Wings,’ ” he said.
In regards to the title of the book, Monson said, “I love the future… I have no idea if any of these [essays] will be found or read… but I figured that it’s kind of what we do anyway with our writing. When we write, we write to the future. … So this is a book dedicated to the lover of the future.”
“I’d like them [future readers] to realize something about themselves [when reading this book], to be moved, to be operated on by the thing that they found. That this was a person who maybe might’ve loved me, who loved the idea of speaking long enough in the future to leave me something to find,” Monson said.

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