How Should A Person Be? Like Sheila Heti at Powerhouse, that’s how
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
1. The birds-eye Powerhouse view. 2. David Shoemaker, Designer at Henry Holt; Szilvia Molnar, from Sterling Lord Lit; Tom Roberge, Publicist at New Directions.
It wouldn’t be unfair to expect a reading for a book called “How Should a Person Be?” to sink into the effusive muck of sardonic self-awareness so often present whenever you combine books with the people who write them, who publish them, and those who want to write or publish them. Luckily, neither the reading nor the question in question was directional or alienating. In DUMBO, on the summer solstice eve, beautiful people floated amidst the streams of long daylight that poured through PowerHouse Arena, buoyed by the familiar grip of red keg cups, ready to be sunk by author and budding literary provocateur, Sheila Heti.
1. How should a person be when reading their book? Sheila Heti demonstrates. 2. These two gentleman allowed me to take their photo, even though I jacked their spots in the beer line: Asher Lack, of the band Ravens and Chimes; Lucas R., Criminal Lawyer.
Prior to this reading, I knew only a few things about how this person, Sheila Heti, is, but because I’d been reading a bunch of interviews alongside pieces of her “novel from life,” I couldn’t be sure who or which person was being revealed to me. I wondered if other people were wondering this. Like, did Sheila Heti really have no friends until she was twenty-five, like the Sheila Heti in her book? Does she really want to be famous, “as famous as one can be,” for everyone to know “in their hearts that I am the most famous person alive — but not talk about it too much?” And god, has she really thrown up on her boyfriend’s dick mid-blowjob, like she mentions on page three of the prologue? The answer, if any, seems present in an anecdote about her best friend’s childhood, in which Heti recounts the story of baby Margaux responding to her family’s hysterics at the dinner table with baby hands facing up and a tiny voice going, “Who cares?” That’s a best friend to write home about.
1. Nina Blass, Planned Parenthood Intern; Ryan Healey, Verso Books Intern; Joseph Henry, Intern at the Whitney Museum. 2. Guelda Voien, journalist; Hannah Solomon, of Christie’s Auction House; Lindsay Anmuth, designer.
After reading the brief prologue, Sheila took questions from the stacked audience, and dangled so many juicy carrots in front of our noses that the line for signed books wound tight nearly an hour after questions had wrapped. Friends and fans were one and the same. I met several of Sheila’s friends in the crowd — musicians, writers, artists — and the community of collaborators represented in the book grew at least five feet taller.
1. Amanda Stern, writer; Suzanne Snider, writer and friends of Sheila’s. I spotted them trying to spot the Canadians in the crowd. They wouldn’t tell me the give-aways. 2. Amy Merrill, of the anti-trafficking Somaly Mam Foundation; Rich Hinman, musician.
An audience member and writer friend of mine stole the final-question-slot and took the chance to ask the thing that maybe everyone was thinking, is thinking, all the time. The author had no final answers, she said, on how a person should be. “I don’t want to say, like, buy the book, but ok, that’s where I’ll end.” And that is how a reading should be.
— Karina Briski is a writer, online and in person. She currently lives here, and in Brooklyn.
— Lit event junkie and want to get involved? Dish is looking for you to cover events for our blog. Send a brief bio and sample to email@example.com