Multimedia artist, writer promotes work in unusual ways
Aug. 28, 2011 at 3:28 a.m.
Author and multimedia artist Davis Schneiderman never wants to attend a boring reading by an author, and he never wants his own readers to do so either.
Equal parts writer and showman, Schneiderman is the first speaker in the University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Fall Reading Series.
"I have a short attention span, so I assume that people in the audience also do, and they aren't there only to hear me read long passages of text," said Schneiderman, chairman of both the Department of English and the American Studies program at Lake Forest College, located just north of Chicago.
Some of his promotional methods are outside the norm of the publishing industry. He has appeared as a mime and has had a DJ remix music to go with his text. Even his actual books have become a way to attract attention. He will offer one of his books, "Blank: a novel," encased in a plaster cover that readers have to break open, and he put a sandpaper cover on another book so it would intentionally damage books set next to it.
Schneiderman readily admits he adds some P.T. Barnum-type theater into his promotion.
"I am descended from fast-talking, deal-making people in New York City. I even had an 'uncle' who was a carnie, and I worked briefly in his traveling fair," he said. "The performance part of that experience was extended into what I do."
The author said he understands and respects writers like J.D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon, who do little promotion and only want their work to speak for them. But he said that is a privileged position from writers with early big hits, and many writers today are too passive about doing the promotion it takes to move their books.
"Some young writers mistakenly assume that since they have now published a work, they will sit back, let the riches come to them and the bullion fall into their lap," he said as he laughed.
Schneiderman is a fan of contemporary fiction innovator Raymond Federman, as well as inventive media mixer Steve Tomasula and William S. Burroughs, a primary figure in the Beat Generation legacy.
The author will promote his 2010 book, "Drain," a futuristic look at the draining of Lake Michigan, in which the area east of Chicago becomes a desert, and his latest release, "Blank: a novel," which is 20 chapters of mostly blank pages.
Schneiderman had a typical, suburban upbringing and discovered works by writers who were mostly hidden from mainstream suburbia, such as Burroughs and Franz Kafka.
The author found himself studying in a culinary institute after high school, then studied journalism at Pennsylvania State University, where he worked as an arts reporter and editor, music critic and opinion writer.
"The newspaper gave me a taste of the kind of public presentation of work where you could get feedback," he said. "It was the most immediate connection between the writer and readers in the days before blogs and the Internet."
As an instructor, Schneiderman also challenges his students to foster an outside-the-norm view, taking them on Segway tours of downtown Chicago or getting high-altitude looks at the city from hot-air balloons. He also got writing students to record nothing but sounds of the city and brought filmmaker John Waters for a campus talk.
"I try to do anything but the conventional lecture," he said.
His most recent, and perhaps challenging, "works" are his two daughters, ages 5 and 4. He and his wife sought to adopt a child from China, and when they were on the way to that country, the couple found out she was pregnant.
He floats between author and father.
"As in writing, I developed a facility for revision with fatherhood, which includes paper airplanes and tickling," he said in a recent essay.
He admits while some are dismissive of his public antics, he wants to keep the interest of those who have come to see him.
"It's part of the fun," he said. "Reading to a room of people is a performance situation that is different from what a person can do within the 350 pages of a novel, so I package it differently. I like to be provocative and polemical."
Jeffrey Di Leo, editor of the American Book Review and dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences, said Schneiderman's work will entertain and challenge the audience to look differently at the publishing industry.
"Mr. Schneiderman is a great reminder to students and the community that there is more than one way to promote works," he said. "I think he will prove an inspiration to those who are interested in the writing craft or are performance-minded, as well as those who like to challenge convention."