Joseph Skibell: Author & Winship Distinguished Research Professor in the Humanities at Emory University

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Joseph Skibell is the author of three novels, A Blessing on the Moon, The English Disease, A Curable Romantic, a collection of true stories, My Father’s Guitar & Other Imaginary Things , and a mythopoetic study entitled Six Memos From the Last Millennium: A Novelist Reads the Talmud. His work has received numerous awards, including the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the Sami Rohr Award in Jewish Literature, and the Turner Prize. His work has been described as “daring in its … honesty” (New York Times); “witty and profound” (Jerusalem Report); “laugh-outloud humorous” (Forward); “brave … unafraid” (New York Journal of Books); “magical” (New Yorker); “high-energy, wild” (New Republic); and “wholly original” (JM Coetzee).From 2008 to 2015, he was the director of the Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature. Recently a Senior Fellow at the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, he is the Winship Distinguished Research Professor in the Humanities at Emory University. He lives in Atlanta and Tesuque, NM.

What do you do best?

As a writer, I work in the valley iwhere story, myth, memory, meaning, history, laughter and the sacred all reside.

What makes you the best?

There’s a story: Once a friend of Pablo Picasso's showed Picasso two paintings attributed to Picasso and asked him to pick out the forgery. Picasso pointed immediately to the painting on the left. “That’s the fake,” Picasso said. “Why, Pablo!” the friend said. "I was in your studio the day you painted this very picture!” “And you don’t think I can forge a Picasso?” Picasso answered him.  

It’s easy to offer inauthentic versions of ourselves. To me, being the best meaning the most authentic version of Joseph Skibell I can be, though I know that sometimes I traffic in forgeries.

What are your aspirations?

I want to live a completely human life. (It’s not as simple as one imagines.)

Biggest Success?

I hope I haven’t achieved it yet. I love that my novels are all over the world, and I’m touched by the letters I sometimes receive from readers.

Most Challenging Moment?

Playing guitar and singing “The Boxer” onstage with Paul Simon. I had a splitting tension headache from sheer nervousness.

Favorite Motto?

“Everything is the opposite of what it is, isn’t it?” — Harry Nilsson. Or: “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space” — Bob Brozman.

Favorite People?

My mother, my wife and my daughter. I aspire to be the person they imagine me to be.

Favorite Places?

Tesuque, New Mexico, where I spend my summers in a beautiful little house in the Chupadero Valley.

Favorite Products?

My 10 handmade guitars, all built in honor or in memory of people dear to me.

Current Passions?

Bach, Tantra, the Book of Genesis, the photos of Talisman Brolin. Bach, I play alone; Tantra, I’m studying with a friend; Genesis, I’m reading with a class of committed undergrads; and everyone should know the work of Talisman Brolin.