IN MY HEART IS AN IDIOT, Davy Rothbart exposes the workings of his wild heart in 16 essays that are as touching and bittersweet as they are funny. As Rothbart travels back and forth across the United States, he weaves the stories of others with his own, creating what is both a self-portrait and a love letter to the people we meet over the course of a life.
I had the opportunity to speak with Rothbart just before the collection’s release and we talked about the truth of the stories we tell, the stories of others as found objects, the beauty of the United States, and the workings of his heart.
Roxane Gay: There has been a lot of conversation this year about truth and creative nonfiction. How much truth is there to be found in your essays?
Davy Rothbart: I consider them all to be completely true. I try to distill every moment down to its essence. Most of them are just told exactly the way I remember them. That being said, craft is important to me, so occasionally, two characters become one because it’s simpler to tell the story that way. I’m not sure what the right answer to this question is.
RG: There is no right answer.
DR: If you’re writing about something that happened 10 or 15 years ago, unless it’s a specific line that has always stuck with you, generally you remember what people might have said, or the tone people were using. It’s a reconstruction of what you remember.
RG: How do you determine what you should and shouldn’t write, about these people you meet in your travels?
DR: A lot of them I just called and asked. I said, “Hey, this experience we had is something that’s stayed with me, and I was going to write about it. But if I write about it, I want to write about it truthfully and with plenty of detail. How do you feel about that?” And some people said off the bat that they appreciated me reaching out to them. Some people said, “Yeah, go for it. I’d like to see it when you’re done.” Some people said, “Oh, let me think about it for a day or two and call me back.” I think pretty much everyone said, “Go for it.” There was only one I can remember, before I could ask for their permission asked, “Do you have any heroin that we could do?”
I don’t know if it’s the writer’s duty to inform someone beforehand, and I can’t say I did that with every one of the pieces.
RG: Do you ever worry about how much you’ve exposed yourself in the collection in the essays?
DR: I love and respect everyone I wrote about. There’s a lot of affection there, even if the stories don’t always paint me or those people in the best light. Generally I’m the one who’s been painted in the worse light. Still, I have some concern for what people will think.
RG: Is there anything you won’t write about?
DR: I wouldn’t want to write about something that would get someone in trouble, or put someone in a bad spot. I don’t know that I’ve personally gone through something that I wouldn’t write about. The things I write that are the most personal, that’s ...read more