17.11.2015 - david vann

Read & Meet David Vann

Participants in the Read & Meet with David Vann are expected to have read the book Legend of a Suicide. Below we provide a questionnaire on the book that will serve as a guideline for the conversation with the author. Links to interviews and journalistic portraits are also included.


  • "Ichthyology" means 'the study of fish.' What do we learn from fish in this story? How do we read them? Why not just tell the story of the father directly?
  • "The Higher Blue" repeats the dramatic structure of "Ichthyology" but in a fabulist riff which provides an epilogue to the book. The story is set in Fairbanks, where the author's father actually killed himself. Why does the boy hide away in the cabinet?
  • The enormous change in the middle of the novella "Sukkwan Island" came as a complete surprise to the author. He didn't know what was going to happen until he was partway through writing that sentence. What's the significance of the event?
  • In an interview with the Dutchspeaking webzine Cutting Edge, David Vann said: ‘All my books grow out of the landscape. I focus on describing an environment and that generates every page. (…) Starting out from an idea is very restrictive and can even damage your story. For me it’s best to write unconsciously, to concentrate on the landscape, and that landscape then becomes a kind of Rorschach test.’
  • What role does wilderness play in "Sukkwan Island"?
  • David Vann’s father committed suicide in 1980. He had been unfaithful, and while on the phone with his ex-wife, he shot himself through the head. Legend of a Suicide tells another story, however. Why did the author not write about the actual event?
  • Does fiction make it possible to understand why someone has committed suicide? Can reading Legend of a Suicide help us get some insight into such an act?


  • David Vann himself doesn’t call Legend of a Suicide a novel but rather a novella enclosed by short stories, although reviewers often see that differently. How did you read the book? Is this book closer to being a story collection or a novel? Do the stories have to be read together and in this order to gain their full meaning?
  • The structure of "A Legend of Good Men" is a series of portraits, borrowing from Chaucer's Legend of Good Women and the tradition of writing about saints' lives (and this is the meaning of the word "Legend" in the title of the book also: a series of portraits). Why do we need to hear about all these men? What's the point?
  • From the lecture which David Vann wrote for Passa Porta it appears that he explicitly places himself in the tradition of neoclassicism. How does this transpire in Legend of a Suicide?


  • Why does the style vary from story to story?

Interviews & journalistic portraits

  • During the Read & Meet we will engage in a real conversation with the author. All participants are allowed ask questions. It seems from this interview in The Guardian that David Vann will not avoid answering any questions: “Ask him anything, and he will answer with all the bluntness of an axe.”
  • David Vann doesn’t mince his words in The White Review:  “No, I don’t write for anyone. Fundamentally, I don’t give a shit. It’s because I’ve written all these stories about my family, which were disturbing for my family and they did care. The only way I could keep writing was without caring about what they thought.” 
  • More interviews on David Vann’s website