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The Sun Magazine

The Sun Interview

The Clear Path To Creativity

An Interview With Dan Wakefield

“The phony glamour of the stoned, smashed, self-destructive artist still has tremendous appeal,” says novelist and journalist Dan Wakefield. It’s a timely observation, given how drug overdoses seem almost de rigueur for young actors and musicians today. To Wakefield, whose latest book, Creating from the Spirit (Ballantine), examines the sources and varieties of human creativity, the myth of narcotic inspiration seriously distorts the real nature of creativity. For example, Wakefield points out, the giants of nineteenth-century American literature — Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, Emerson, Dickinson, Whitman, and Twain — were neither alcoholics nor drug addicts. But Edgar Allan Poe, an arguably lesser talent whose tragic life was ravaged by drugs and alcohol, has been the subject of the most books and biographies. Says Wakefield, “The world seems to love the story of the suffering artist.”

Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories

How I Lost My Mind, And Other Adventures

I took the bus from Iowa down to Memphis, a funny pressure in my chest, a nervous futility, an unaccountable fatigue. I walked along the railroad tracks and the streets of white clapboard houses, the air smelling of soap and tar. I passed a place called Duno’s Lounge. There was a Help Wanted sign in the window, but I couldn’t go in. This had never happened to me before. I told myself I was just fed up with asking for minimum-wage jobs, that I needed a rest. I got a motel room along the creosote-smelling Wolf River and walked until I came to a market called Louie and Wu’s on Warford Avenue, where I bought a can of Spaghetti-O’s and two bananas and a box of week-old doughnuts on sale for ninety-nine cents.

The Happiest Man On The Beach

Autumn and I are walking on Ocean Beach at sunset. Autumn’s long red hair is lit up like an Irish setter’s in the last rays of sun. This beach, with its long, low waves, makes me think of Walt Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking.” Oh, miracle of wild beach at the edge of the city, at the edge of the continent! The Pacific rolls and crashes, its great green breakers gathering, their edges curling with milk-foam.

My Father’s Place

A few days after my father, poet William Stafford, died, I was sleeping alone at my parents’ house when something woke me at around 4 A.M. My mother, who was away, had told me that she, too, been wakened since his death at this, my father’s customary writing time. The moon was shining through the bedroom window, but that wasn’t it. Everything was still, the neighborhood quiet. The house wanted me to rise. It was the hour beckoning: a soft tug, nothing mystical,just a habit to the place.The air was sweet, life was good; it was time.


Man Standing Under A Rocket Taking Off For The Moon

When the bar where I work closes, I hit the after-hours places, drink till the sun comes up; sometimes I wake up on a table. On Fridays after work, I drive to Island City, where Oz lives. Oz is part owner of the bar. He wears a purple kimono and glides along like a phantom on wheels. He’s a big-time coke dealer but he’s broken the cardinal rule and gotten himself hooked on the product. He smokes cocaine. We call it freebasing. (This is 1981; there is no word yet for crack.) Oz cooks it up in the kitchen and brings it into the living room on a platter: big, amorphous, soapy yellow chunks. It is a secret art. He is the only one who knows how to do it — except I’ve watched him from around the corner, and now I know how to do it, too.


In the spring, during long twilit evenings lengthening slowly into night, we watch our mothers change. The pink on the filters of their cigarettes matches the pink on their rounded fingernails. We think somehow this color signals s-e-x, but we don’t understand, and it makes us want to hate them. Their cigarettes are menthol; the pink is frosted, and so are the highlights in their hair. With so much mint and frost, they should be cool, but they aren’t. The heat of the coming summer seems to rise from them.

Nearly Kosher

This is the story of why no one in my family believes in God — no one except me, as you will discover.

Readers Write


When our sixth-grade class went to confession each Friday before early-morning Mass, I always had trouble thinking of any sins to confide to the priest. My religion teacher, however, insisted that we all committed sins and urged me to think harder. In frustration, I took to inventing two or three serious ones in advance. I kept this up for two and a half years — until I found drugs and stopped going to Mass altogether.

Personal Stories By Our Readers ▸


It’s very possible that your life in art — your successful life in art — might be a struggle from start to finish.

Sally Warner

More Quotations ▸
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