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Write a bio about yourself

Denis Emorine

Many thanks to Barbara Shaffer

That's such a difficult thing - talking about oneself! Let me try to be objective, if possible. I was born near Paris in 1956. As far back as I can remember, I was fascinated by literature, so I studied it at the Sorbonne ( University of Paris). Later, I fall in love and married a French teacher, of course! For me, writing is a way of harnassing time in its incessant flight. My favourites themes are about the passage of time, lost or shattered identity, and mythical places such as Venice, Prague, and St.Petersburg. I am also fascinated by Eastern Europe.

Describe the room you write in

Well, I have no room really because I live with my wife and our two daughters in a small house. When my younger daughter was born, I gave her my room. Since 1988, my computer is in a corner of the sitting room on an old worktable. On one shelf, there are a lot of books and reviews in English and in French and my manuscripts.

I read that some of your favorite writers are Paul Celan, Garcia Lorca and Kafka. What is it about these writers that influence you?

I have so many favorite writers! I don't think any of these writers have a real influence on my writing, except for Kafka, because of the strange ambiance of his short stories and novels. Celan had a particular connection with death. He had lost his mother and his father in the Holocaust and his German mother tongue constantly reminded him of his loss. Unfortunately, I didn't read his poetry in German. However, I am deeply moved by "Todesfuge" for example, even though I read it in French. Garcia Lorca? When I was learning Spanish in high school, I read and enjoyed his poetry and plays very much.

You collaborated with Jennifer Bock-Nelson on a project called Literature and the Pictural Arts. Please talk about this project.

In fact, the real name of the project is A Step Inside. One day, a few years ago, I was on the Internet and found Jennifer's work on her website.

I was impressed by her work and,as soon as I saw her paintings, a collection of words came to me both in English and in French. It was a strange sensation. I decided to contact her about a collaboration. The challenge was to write eight poems on eight paintings, which we had to choose together.

I wrote four poems directly in English and four in French. I don't know why it worked out that way. She was moved by all of them. I was unable to translate the French poems to English, so my friend and translator, Phillip John Usher,did it with his usual sensibility and cleverness!

You write poetry, fiction and plays. Most recently a play of yours. Sur le quai was performed in Paris. What was this like for you? It was staged by Evgueny Chourchikov and Olga Riabova. How did this come about?

Olga Riabova is a French teacher in Moscow, who contacted me in 2004. She belongs to an important association of French teachers in Russia. She needed a short play for her students. The Association was planning a festival dedicated to the French language and culture with dances, songs, plays and so on…Olga loved "Sur le quai". I was extremely happy to give her the play. I was invited to this festival, which takes place in Moscow and St Petersburg, in May 2005. I had never been to Russia before and I was very excited and deeply touched to go there! My father is of Russian ancestry. After seeing the play, however, I was very disappointed. "Sur le quai" is a romantic and a bit fantastic story. However, Chourchikov envisioned a rather avant-garde show,which I hadn't realized. I was angry with him. For me, it was a kind of treason! Ultimately, though,I decided to let the play go on in Bordeaux and Paris because of the students who had worked so hard and with such enthusiasm.

Talk about your publications, No Through World ( Ravenna Press) and Side by Side (Foothills Publishing )

Oh yes, gladly! "No Through World" ( Dans les impasses du monde) was published in French a few years ago and then translated by Phillip John Usher. These are short texts a combination of short shorts, poetry and tales with, sometimes, a dream-like quality. Every text is about a narrator whose life is disrupted by something strange, as in a nightmare. What happens next is most important for me!

"Side by Side" includes two parts. The first one, a few poems translated by my Indian friend, the poet Pradip Choudhuri., is about war, death, love and the existential problems of each human being.

I am particularly proud of the second part. There are ten poems, which I wrote completely in English. They were influenced by the French poet Baudelaire and full of what he called "spleen" Of course, I was apprehensive about them, so I gave them to Phillip for reading. He said it was a good poetry without any grammatical mistakes with a typical French touch! I was so delighted! It was the first time that I had written in English. I was ready to send the manuscript to America!

A la croisée des signes which is an essay forthcoming about literature, writing, life, and death. Pretty heavy topics that I love. Explain.

I love those topics too. "A la croisée" is not a big essay but a bunch of aphorisms about the difference between D.E, the writer and D.E, the human being. What are these differences between them and why? It includes questions like: what is writing? It raises several issues on literature, life and death. For example, is writing the only way to be immortal or just rubbish? I try to take a bearing.

What is the writing scene in France? Talk about the region where you live.

That's a difficult question and I'm not sure how to answer it. Overall, I think that it's not too bad! It could always be better, I suppose. I live in Alsace, in the East of France, not very far from the German and the Swiss borders. Alsace has both a Germanic and a French culture. Sometimes, that's disconcerting for a Frenchy like me! You know, France is an old country with many contrasts, the result of our long History. Many regions are completely different … The South, La Côte d'Azur, and the East for example. Alsace, for example, is a lovely place with good white wines, nice houses that resemble the dwarf's house in Disney's "Snow White" and Japanese factories. If you'd like to know more, Gloria, you would be more that welcome to come to Alsace and I could be your guide.

What is the strangest thing you've done to find writing material?

I was in Romania, near the Hungarian border in 1996, for a conference dedicated to poetry. At a place near there, I was speaking in French with one of my Romanian friends. A young woman, a Hungarian student in French accosted me. Her story was very painful because she told me that she was forced to prostitute herself to pay for her education. I was deeply moved and I wrote a short story about it entitled "Ce soir vers 21 heures" ( "Twenty-One Hundred Hours." ) You can read it on my website. Please let me know your thoughts.!

What playwrights influence you? What are the name of some plays that inspire you?

I love theatre very much, especially Shakespeare, Albert Camus, Beckett, and Vaclav Havel (like you, Gloria!). I particularly love the Russian playwrights, such as Chekhov. I prefer tragedies and plays that take place in one room only. However, I don't think that they really influence me.

Where does your playwrighting material come from? Have you ever directed any of your own pieces?

My work is about the difficulties to understand ourselves even, or rather especially when we speak the same language. To be understood or not is like a neurosis for me. Words are double-edged weapons and can be quite dangerous. They can even destroy and kill you., My plays try to explore this universe in everyday life. Sometimes, I'm terribly afraid of saying hurtful remarks to my friends without doing it on purpose. It's terrible! I think my plays result from this experience. I have only directed one of my pieces! It was a failure . What a shame! I'm unable to direct my own work, so I'll never do it again, never!

What did you start writing first? Poetry, Plays, Essays or Fiction?

I started writing poetry and short stories when I was 20. Later, I went on to write plays, and finally, wrote short essays, particularly aphorisms.

Does your wife or anyone else write in your family?

I don't think so. Maybe it's a secret!

What are you reading now?

I'm reading Cocteau's "L'aigle à deux têtes" ( The eagle has two heads ) and a book from one of my favorite poets, Yves Bonnefoy.

Any last comments?

Oh yes, I was so happy to write this interview in English! I have an affective relationship to this language! My mother was an English teacher and, when I was small, she often used to speak to me in English She would teach me a few words through nursery rhymes, which she would recite in English. You can imagine how I remember that time with great emotion! French is my mother tongue and English my mother's tongue.

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