At the end of May 2011, I will publish the next issue of Afronaut. It’s a hefty one (140 pages) for a slim price (five bucks)—so big, in fact, that it’s a double issue. Issue #4/5 brings together what I consider to be my best essays from the past five years, which were featured in a variety of places. I’m calling it Demo Tapes: Essays by Walter Biggins, 2005-2010, and I think I’m proud of it. In any case, what follows is the brief author’s note for the zine. I hope it whets your appetite.
I always wanted to write fiction—nonfiction was just a side thing until I could start publishing my “real” stuff. I had slogged out two novel manuscripts, both terrible though I didn’t know it at the time, and a slew of middling short stories. The nonfiction that I did like tended to fuse close critical analysis, large-scale cultural/political commentary, reportage, and memoir. Many of my favorite nonfiction writers—Pauline Kael, Lawrence Weschler, Joseph Mitchell, Zadie Smith, Pico Iyer, Vikram Seth, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Albert Murray, Robert Christgau—melded these forms, until the prose became uncategorizable.
Once upon a time, The New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly were the gold standards in developing this kind of writing. This mode, however, was disappearing in print but was flourishing on blogs. So, in March 2005, I saw an opportunity, and seized it.
Essays—writing about them, thinking up notes for them—kept interrupting my fiction, anyway. (Once a liberal arts grad, always a liberal arts grad…) Even then, I read a lot of critical commentary and, whenever I read or saw or heard or tasted something, I kept thinking of how to critique it. I was spending less time on stories, and more on criticism.
I thought a blog would be a good way to drain off that excess, “useless” energy. Instead of being a mere sketchbook or a dumping ground, the blog led me to discover my true voice, one that I turn to times of needs, one in which I am now (fairly) confident. For five years, I posted on the blog, producing over 200,000 words of stuff. Even with my slow learning curve, I got better, and then good, and then pretty good. Culture provided my subject; writing diligently and regularly developed my voice. Eventually, I was good enough to submit items to, and have them accepted by, magazines and journals: Salon, Jackson Free Press, PopMatters, The Baseball Chronicle, and others.
Now, I haven’t figured out a way to make a living as either a critic or a novelist. But I figured out how to have fun writing, how to use my writing to communicate and make friends with others, and, slowly, how to best express myself to the world. The blog helped me find the best part of myself. That’s worth a lot more than poor payment for my words.
So, this zine collects the best of those years, in which my scratchy and bearded voice became smoother and more supple, and in which I found something to sing about in the first place. Unless otherwise noted, the pieces therein were originally found on my blog.
Enjoy, and thanks for reading.