#ShowYourWork: An Interview with Austin Kleon

I was fortunate to recently interview writer and artist Austin Kleon, author of Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered. He is the author of Steal Like an Artist and the found poetry collection Newspaper Blackout, and his work has been featured on NPR’s Morning EditionPBS NewsHourThe Wall Street Journal, and the art website, 20×200.com. Show Your Work will be released on March 6.


Books & Whatnot (B&W): In the chapter “Don’t Be a Hoarder,” you mention that before people share their work with the world, they should share their tastes in the work of others. So I’m throwing your questions from the chapter right back at you. What three things are influencing you right now?

Austin Kleon (AK):

  1. I’m in love with St. Vincent’s new (self-titled) album. I’m in awe of artists who can keep bettering themselves each go-around, and she’s someone who’s gotten better and better with each album. It’s exciting to watch an artist really hit their stride, and I think she is: she’s got the album, the look, the confidence. It’s going to be a good year for her. I want just an ounce of what she’s got.
  2. I’m trying to get back into my meditation practice. I find it incredibly hard to focus during a book release and to unplug from the constant feed of chatter. Meditation is the thing that’s helped the most. I don’t even have much of a practice: I just go out to my studio, set a timer for 10 minutes, try to breathe and empty my mind, and then go to work.
  3. I continue to be influenced by one of my heroes, Ms. Lynda Barry. She is currently posting her syllabi and exercises from the courses she’s teaching at the University of Wisconsin, and everything she posts makes me want to get to work. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of a MacArthur “genius” grant than her.


B & W: I subscribe to your email and follow your blog, and both in your book and online, I’ve noticed your interest in William S. Burroughs. Were you influenced by his cut-up method when developing your blackout poetry?

AK: Yes, and I go back again and again to this 1965 Paris Review interview. That’s the interview that inspired the British artist Tom Philips to start his Humument project, which is really the grandfather of blackout poetry. The thing that Burroughs says in that interview that I love so much is this: “What is any writing but a cut-up?” It’s true: all writing is a matter of picking and choosing words and stringing them together.


B & W: Your wife has some pretty great sayings: “If you never go to work, you never get to leave work.” And my favorite: “If someone took a dump in your living room, you would let it sit there, would you?” Does she have any other gems worth sharing?

AK: Oh, I have a whole file. Here are just a couple:

“Quit trying to pick fights on Twitter and go make something.”

“It’s easy to learn from really good art and really bad art — it’s the mediocre stuff that’s difficult to make sense of.”

“We give other people what we need.”

“Life might suck, but your food doesn’t have to.”

She’s obviously the brains of our outfit.


B & W: Just how great is Franklin Barbecue?

AK: Let’s put it this way: I hate waiting in lines. I don’t see any reason why in our day and age human beings should have to wait in line for anything.

I think waiting in line is inhuman.

But I will wait in line for Franklin BBQ.

(I recommend the brisket and the Tipsy Texan sandwich.

Editors Note: St. Vincent was featured on NPR’s First Listen last week. Have a listen.

Beth Golay

Beth is a reader, writer, marketer and Books & Whatnot founder. Even though she knows better, she's a sucker for a good book cover and will positively swoon if a book is set in appropriate type. @BethGolay