Devine Andy

“Andy Devine” reads at Tyramperius Rex Reading Party.

I first “met” Andy Devine last month at the Tyramperius Rex reading party. He shook my hand and told me his name was Andy Devine, and then snickered. Things made a lot more sense later in the evening, when I was outside of the bar and we were both smoking. “Andy Devine” confessed to me that he actually wasn’t Andy Devine at all — he was just functioning as Andy Devine for the evening. It turns out that this impersonation was done with the author’s consent, and that this is actually how Devine is doing his reading tour, via this project, which is titled “Being Andy Devine.”

The conceptual nature of this tour totally fits once you look at Devine’s work, which is — you guessed it — highly conceptual. His recent book, Words, which is out on Publishing Genius, consists of five parts: two lists (one of words that you should not use in fiction, and another of words you should), a list of thoughts about fiction (which includes “Only jackasses use whom”), several short stories, a novel, and an afterword. Except for the thoughts and afterword, everything is arranged in alphabetical order. That is, the first five words of Devine’s story “Airplanes at Bright into Night Turn” are “A, a, a, across, after.” The novel reads almost like an algebra problem, with lines like “funny (7x), furniture (14x), further (2x), future (14x)” — so it is actually a novel, yet it only takes up twenty-something pages.

I spoke with Adam Robinson, the publisher of Publishing Genius, to learn more about this project and Andy Devine in general.

Q. What exactly is the Being Andy Devine?

A. “Being Andy Devine” is the name of the tour that Michael Kimball and I developed to support Andy’s book, Words. On the tour, actors pretend that they are Andy Devine and read selections from the book and answer questions about it as if they wrote it. But it’s a loose secret that Andy Devine is Michael Kimball. For years, Andy has been writing novels like Dear Everybody and How Much Of Us There Was under his Kimball pseudonym, just so he can have the money to work on his passion, which is listing words he likes and doesn’t like, and compiling cantankerous rules for writing, and putting together stories then rearranging them.

Q. Who came up with this idea?

A. Well, it was Andy who came up with the idea. He wanted me to do more to promote his work (“for the betterment of us all,” he said) and suggested setting up a proxy tour for him. The proxy tour works because it can be unclear who Andy is in the first place. Even I get confused when I’m talking about it and while I’m entirely sure I didn’t write Words; sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t Andy’s wife. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it was David McLendon, who published several pieces in his journal, Unsaid, and is generally passionate about the work. So, given the ambiguity, it makes sense to let anyone be Andy, and to share his identity as well as his scholarship.

Q. Who has read as Andy Devine so far?

A. The tour started in earnest at the beginning of October. We’ve had a radio person named Aaron Henkin read here in Baltimore, and Tita Chico, a Dean at the University of Maryland, who read for Andy a while ago for the HTMLGIANT reading series online. I liked the Jeff Brewer performance in NYC, where according to legend, Andy actually combined his reading with a striptease. Jamie Gaughran-Perez contextualized Andy as a family man recently in Philadelphia. We’ve got a lot more “on the books,” too, including Andy’s from other countries, more Andys as in Andie as in ladies, and someone mentioned a Matrix Reloaded reading, where Andys just pop out of the woodwork like that bad-suited agent.

Q. How do you select who gets to be Andy Devine?

A. If I don’t have a friend in a place where there is a reading scheduled, as in Portland, OR, I ask the host of the reading series to recommend someone. Then we work together to craft that person’s special Andenity. (Andy + Identity = Andenity. I just made that up. The Being Andy Devine thing opens to all sorts of crafty language.)

Q. Any particularly memorable Andy Devine moments?

A. The first time I ever saw Andy Devine read, he showed up as Michael Kimball. But he turned around and slipped off his tee shirt and put on a different tee shirt and I thought — oh man, Andy Kaufman would be proud of this languagey Tony Clifton thing (though to be clear I am pretty sure that Andy Kaufman and Andy Devine are not the same person).

–Julia Jackson is working on her MFA in fiction at Brooklyn College, and is a regular contributor for Electric Dish.

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