Art Beat: Experimental Writing

Aug 15, 2019

Joe Sacksteder
Credit BJ Enright

Joe Sacksteder believes that all art forms meld. He works in several mediums—music, literature, and filmmaking. He’s also the director of creative writing at Interlochen Center for the Arts.

Sacksteder’s new collection of experimental short stories is called Make/Shift (Sarabande Books, 2018). Via Skype, he spoke about his life as a teacher and administrator at Interlochen, Eastern Michigan University, and at a prison for women.

“In 2017, I came to Interlochen as a visiting instructor and I kind of stuck around,” Sacksteder says. “Since June 1st, I’ve been director of creative writing. That includes teaching—I teach fiction and nonfiction—and I teach a lot of innovative, experimental classes like hybrid genres. I’ll be teaching writing about music next year. And then, as an administrator, I’m doing a lot of hiring, evaluating, and the joyful task of bringing in a lot of visiting writers.”

Credit Sarabande Books

Before coming to Interlochen, Sacksteder taught for five years at Eastern Michigan University.

“That was a wonderful experience,” he says. “I came in writing pretty traditional short stories and came out writing books like Make/Shift.”

Sacksteder says part of his experience there included working at a women’s prison in southeast Michigan where he led writing workshop classes. While some of the work his students produced was therapeutic, others used writing to escape a world they could no longer live in.

“We weren’t there just to hang out,” he says. “For some people, this experience was so vital to them, so it was an important experience in my life as well.”

Sacksteder says that he was inspired to write experimental fiction, or “potential literature,” by studying the work of French experimental writers from the 1960s and ‘70s.

“They imposed a lot of constraints upon themselves, which is not what we normally think of doing when writing literature,” Sacksteder says. “For example, what happens if I try to write an entire novel without using the letter "e"? That’s even harder to do in French. They were these mad scientists of writers who would treat their stories almost like a laboratory, and sometimes that’s how I feel.”

Sacksteder is also the author of a new novel, Driftless Quintet (Schaffner Press), coming in October 2019. His music album, Fugitive Traces, is available from Punctum Books. His writing has appeared in Salt Hill, Ninth Letter, the Denver Quarterly, The Rumpus, and elsewhere.

Joe Sacksteder will be reading with Caitlin Horrocks, author of The Vexations, at Michigan News Agency in downtown Kalamazoo at 6 p.m. on August 28.

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