Interview with Kevin McIlvoy
An interview with faculty member Kevin McIlvoy appears online at r.kv.r.y quarterly.
The starting place for me as a writer was the luck of growing up hearing truly marvelous oral storytellers in my father’s large family, particularly the oldest women in his family. Their rambling, chaotic stories were spellbinding to me. They were a form of singing that shifted in register and expressiveness according to what the storyteller was feeling in her body.
The story had not been planned (as a self-conscious design), it was not thought out and, so, poured out; it was unplanned (as an unselfconscious wreckage) and, so, spilled out. The story was not driven by a compelling plot or theme regarding our ways of becoming; it was driven by the sensations and the enigmatic vulnerabilities of the body and its ways of being.
Themes and plots arose in the story only as happy accidents. At no point was the story constructing an experience of comprehension for the listener’s mind; it was, instead, creating a way to listen with the body. This kind of story left me with the impression that storytelling existed above all else in order to give us new ways to be fully present — in all our senses, in our skin and flesh, in our noses, on our tongues, and always in our sensitive ears — to the world before us.
I became a reader who wished to read stories first with my body, then my mind. I became a writer who wished for language to bring new terms of engagement and estrangement to my body, and a writer more than a little restless with language primarily dedicated to cerebral clarity and concision.
In other words, I have never moved very far from being the childlike reader. As far as I can tell, when I am writing at my best I am the childlike writer. I am sixty years old. It would be accurate to describe me as “immature.” I acknowledge that the adult reader for my work must have the child body fully alive in her/him or my work will simply cause disappointment. I can live with that.