What We Talk About When We Talk About Writers: An Interview With M.F.A. Student Matt Allegretti

Welcome to another weekly installment of WWTA. Over the course of the semester, we’re going to be interviewing the writers who make up the first class of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. This week we corresponded with Matt Allegretti over email. Matt grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. He  received his B.A. in classics and a minor in writing at Siena College in 2005. He was an editor for the Siena literary magazine, The Pendragon. Matt lived in Alaska and was once chased by a black bear (though he had an unfair advantage because he was riding a bike). He’s had a life-long obsession with comic books and movies. When he’s writing he likes to listen to his favorite album, The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle, on repeat.

What drew you to the MFA program?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. When I was a kid I used to write and draw comics.  I was a smart kid. I’d charge my parents a quarter to read  my comics. On family vacations, instead of going to the beach I’d sit in the hotel room and write my Nick Cove detective stories.  For me, writing has been a good way to avoid getting sunburned. It wasn’t until college that I looked at writing as a possible career. I had a great writing mentor, Naton Leslie, who inspired and motivated me to keep writing. Over the last five years, I’ve done lot of traveling, gained  a ton of life experience, and now I’m ready to enter the next stage of my writing career, which is why I’m here.

What or who inspires you to write?

I’m inspired by visionary filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Preston Sturges, Howard Hawkes, and Orson Welles. For years I’ve had an obsession with Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigowhich I’m pretty sure isn’t healthy. I’m especially haunted by the ambiguous ending. Movies inspire me more than other forms of art. I guess I’m interested in art that is somewhat surreal and slightly off-kilter. Examples would be David Lynch’s films, Paul Bowles’ short stories, and Gilbert Hernandez’s comic book adaptations of imaginary movies. I like things that aren’t finished, rough cuts, things that aren’t meant to be seen, raw art before it’s polished and made squeaky clean.

Who is your favorite author?

I have a short attention span and I have trouble sticking with novels over 300 pages so I read mostly short stories, poetry, comics, essays, and film criticism.  For some strange reason I’m drawn to the writers that knew how to hit the sauce, the sad bastards of American literature, writers like John Cheever, Richard Yates, and Raymond Carver. I absolutely love anything written by Paul Bowles and Flannery O’Connor, also the short stories of  James Salter, Ron Carlson, and  Denis Johnson. I love the poetry of Alan Dugan, Frank O’hara, and  Naton Leslie.  Recently I’ve been enjoying the sardonic film critic David Thomson and the nonfiction of Borges.

What do you hope to accomplish by the time you graduate?

I hope to not drown in a sea of rejection slips. Seriously, I don’t have any lofty goals such as completing a novel. No matter my original intention, everything I write ends up being under twenty pages, so I guess I just want to work on getting some of my stories and poems published.

What are your long-term goals for writing?

If I publish a few books in my lifetime I think I’ll be happy.

What was the last good book you’ve read?

The last good book I finished was Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by Christopher Hedges. It should be required reading for every American, especially this election year.

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