'Bright Lights, Big City' Author Jay McInerney Talks Fame and Faking It


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The author famous for “Bright Lights Big City” talks about fame, Flannery and faking it – and what he thinks about most. 

New Yorker Jay McInerney cemented his fame with the cultural phenomenon of the 1980s, “Bright Lights, Big City”. Eleven books followed, including “Brightness Falls” and his latest, “Bright, Precious Days,” volume three in a series that chronicles the financial, social and marital ups and downs of Manhattan professionals Russell and Corrine Calloway. 

You continue mining the theme of happiness. Define happiness. It’s taken me many pages to even begin to address the question, like hundreds. For me happiness is kind of three-pronged – fulfillment in your work, your romantic life, and your family. I think if you’ve got 2 ½ half of those you’re doing well. That’s sort of what Russell and Corrine are struggling with.

Why do you keep writing about them?  I find it really intriguing in fiction as well as in life to follow people through time. I’m pretty sure we’re going to see them at least one more time.

Like you, they live in New York, which you’ve said is the only place you truly feel at home. Why? I moved constantly when I was growing up so I didn’t really have a hometown. But when I finally arrived in New York, in my 20s, it was IT. It was the most exciting place, the most dynamic, the most energetic, the most stimulating, and full of people like me who were young and ambitious and energetic who had come from all over the world to be together. This sort of tribe of restless strivers who are drawn to the lights of the City.  

Why are you a New Yorker? You didn’t grow up there. New York is a place where you don’t need to be born there to belong. I love the South, but either you’re a southerner or not. It’s not something you can adopt or become, whereas you can become a New Yorker if you sort of land there and stay until somebody asks you directions.

Ever been to Savannah? I have. It’s a wonderful city and has a lot of artistic energy. From what I’ve seen and heard it seems to be more welcoming and tolerant and diverse than other parts of the state and South.

You’ve written about Flannery O’Connor. Are you a fan? One of the greatest American writers. She took her slice of the world and made it representative of all human experience. Her vision was unclouded by sort of cheap emotions or sentimentality. She had a very clear vision of her faith which made her quite clear sighted about good and evil in the universe. And she was not an equivocator.

You’ve talked about faking it and trying on different selves to find your authentic self. Have you found yours? I’ve sort of created the persona and grown into it. I’m very secure in who I am because, you know, I’ve had an awful lot of years to practice.

Do you really go out every night in New York City? 

To find out why Jay McInerney goes out every night in New York City and more, subscribe now or pick up the February/March issue of South Magazine.

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