“The Novel Felt Bigger Than Itself”: Bennett Sims & Halimah Marcus at WORD

“The Bennett Sims we have here tonight,” warned Emily Pullen, manager of Brooklyn’s WORD, “is not the Episcopal bishop from Atlanta in the seventies… If he was, we’d have our very own undead specimen.” Double-tough luck, then, for zombie fans, as Sims — the recent Iowa grad who wowed last night at WORD — promises his new book (A Questionable Shape, out this month from Two Dollar Radio) is “a zombie novel with no zombies — [in A Questionable Shape] they’re all quarantined.”

1. Pals Silvia Lu, Elizabeth Grossman & Conor Hanick 2. Bennett Sims, sadly not a bishop

Following Pullen’s loving introduction (“The novel felt bigger than itself when I was reading it, which is what I always look for in fiction”) and a short reading from Sims, our own Halimah Marcus spoke to the author about his process, film theory, and why he skips over footnotes when reading his work aloud.1

As for his undead focus, Sims pointed to a fascination with zombie movies in high school that warped into an undergraduate thesis, in which he looked at zombie metaphors that pop up in across a swath of disciplines: in political science, mind-body philosophy, psycho-analysis, etc. Years later, he “novelized” the thesis, made its issues life-or-death for a set of living characters left in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse — all of whom must figure out for themselves what it means to be undead (and alive).

1. A new fan 2. Josh Dzieza (The Daily Beast) Sica Quick (Penumbra) and saxaphonist Daniel Stark

In the universe of Sims’s novel, there are no zombie movies — they just don’t exist — but that doesn’t mean Sims has forgotten them. For films at their pure, monstery best, he pointed to Dawn of the Dead and The Beyond (an Italian film) as his favorites in the genre. But his book, by its nature, is something else entirely: Cinema’s passive camera lets you get away with more, he said. “You have to work a lot harder to be visionary [with prose].”

Sims closed the evening with zombie trivia, giving away copies of his books to correct answerers. (Q: Which real-life neurotoxin do some botanists fear/hope/claim might cause real-life zombie-ism?) (A: If you want to know, you should’ve come to WORD.)

***

–Jake Zucker is the Editorial Assistant for Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, and wears sunglasses on the net.

1. They appear throughout the novel, and Sims loves them because “they hold your brain in suspense between two threads of thought”; but there’s no place for them out loud: “The ear cannot hold [these threads] like the eye can.

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