ADAM JOHNSON is a Professor of English at Stanford University. Winner of Fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the American Academy in Berlin, he is the author of several books, including Fortune Smiles, which won the 2015 National Book Award, and the novel The Orphan Master’s Son, which was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize. His fiction has appeared in Esquire, GQ, Playboy, Harper’s Magazine, Granta, Tin House, and Best American Short Stories.
Read Adam Johnson’s story “Speak, Kato. Speak,” originally featured in Issue 8.1, 1996.
Your story, “Speak, Kato. Speak,” was first featured with us in Issue 8.1, 1996. Can you tell us a bit about how your writing has changed since then?
This story was about OJ Simpson, and many journals wouldn’t touch this story because OJ was still rich and powerful at that point. I believe the editors told me the Purdue University lawyers spent many months deliberating on whether to allow Sycamore Review to even publish it. I love the dog who tells this story of dark love and loneliness, so I’m glad it found a home. Since then, my writing has become longer and more maximal.
If you could go back to when the issue came out, what advice would you give yourself then?
When OJ was convicted of other charges, I sent the story to him in his prison in Florida. The story assumes that OJ cut his ex-wife’s head off, of course. I was hoping OJ would sue me. I thought that would be fun, to be sued by OJ from prison! But he never even wrote back. My advice to my old self is affirmational: when writing nakedly about the murders of famous people, always try to then get sued by them.
How important was submitting to literary journals at the beginning of your career?
It’s very important to have your work in literary journals. It puts your work in all the serious libraries of America. With each editor’s stamp of approval of your work, a consensus emerges on your merit, and I think that helps agents and editors read your work seriously. Plus it’s very affirming when you look at a review’s list of previously published writers–many of your literary heroes will likely be found in those very pages.
Who are you reading now?
Lots of early Tongan poetry.