The BKBF Interview: Nell Zink

The BKBF Interview with Nell Zink, author of Doxology.


Where is your favorite place to read?
It’s a toss-up between the breakfast table and the train.

What book do you return to most often, whether passages or whole?
The diaries of André Gide, in German. It’s an old linen-bound, rained-on copy I found on a park bench, too beat up to go on a shelf, which is why it’s been on the windowsill in my bathroom for five years.

What’s the last book that had you reading past your bedtime?
The autobiography of Wolf Biermann, an East German dissident singer-songwriter.

Who made reading important to you?
My parents. My mother taught me to read by writing stories in autograph books using just a few letters, à l’oulipo. Whenever I learned new diphthongs, she wrote new stories. I was three. The stories were illustrated and I think they involved bunnies. Pretty soon I had a 100-watt bulb over my bed and permission to read all night. We went to the public library once a week and I checked out ten books every time. TV was strictly limited. I didn’t have a radio until I was 13.

If you had the power to create your own fantasy BKBF panel – any writer or artist, dead or alive – who would you love to see discussing books?
I’d like to see John Clute interview Doris Lessing. Too late for that, but you could still fulfill my other fantasy of a Jonathan Franzen/Bill McKibben debate moderated by Petina Gappah.

BONUS QUESTION: In honor of the 5th anniversary of Children’s Day, we’re asking everyone, What’s your favorite children’s book?
Mistress Masham’s Repose by T.H. White


Nell Zink grew up in rural Virginia. She has worked in a variety of trades, including masonry and technical writing. In the early 1990s, she edited an indie rock fanzine. Her books include The Wall Creeper, Mislaid, Private Novelist, and Nicotine, and her writing has appeared in n+1, Granta, and Harper’s. Doxology, her most recent novel, was listed as a Recommended Book of 2019 from Vulture and Esquire. She lives near Berlin, Germany.