The Millions

Pointing Toward Truth: The Millions Interviews David Hollander

His website never once mentions his name. A Twitter account named The Fexo—of which he dubiously denies ownership—claims to be the author of his work. The self-effacing David Hollander nevertheless showed little trepidation about sitting down with me for an interview, appearing promptly on my computer screen via Zoom one day in July, with the Covid-19 pandemic still peaking in the United States and the September 1 release of his second novel, Anthropicadelayed from May 1st—once again in sight.

Anthropica is the long overdue follow-up to Hollander’s debut novel, L.I.E., which was published in 2000 when the author was 30 years old. A pillar of the writing faculty at Sarah Lawrence College, Hollander has toiled in near-obscurity for 20 years, publishing fiction in a variety of literary magazines but coming up short in his efforts to publish a second book. Those loyal fans and former students who have kept up with his literary output know that Hollander’s imagination, syntactical verve, and distinctively bleak sense of humor remain undiminished. With its talking robots and scientific mumbo-jumbo,,its awe at the profound mysteries of the universe and alternating love and disdain for human endeavors, Anthropica proves to be a stylistic and thematic culmination after a long period of refinement and reflection.

Two of the three co-founders of Animal Riot Press, Katie Rainey and Brian Birnbaum, studied with Hollander at Sarah Lawrence in the mid-2010s. As his close confidants in the years since graduating, Rainey and Birnbaum conspired from the outset to work with Hollander on bringing out his unpublished manuscript, the initial draft of which was completed around 2014. And indeed, Anthropica is only the second title published by this fledgling press, making it a crucial book in shaping Animal Riot’s literary sensibility.

I was especially curious to hear from Hollander about the process of being published by former students, and the experience of having the editorial tables turned. But first, I wanted to learn more about his writing practice since the publication of his first novel.

The Millions: You published L.I.E. three years after finishing your MFA at Sarah Lawrence. How did it get picked up by Random House?

I got a call out of the blue from this high-power agent at ICM who had picked out of a slush pile accidentally; he mistook my name for someone else’s. He called me, and he was like, “Who are you? I really love your book.” At that point I’d spent a year or more querying blindly, having agents either refuse to look at the book or reject it quickly, sometimes even viciously. But within two weeks of my signing on with ICM, there was a bidding war for I like to hold that experience up to some of my later failures to publish books—I try to remember that rejection doesn’t necessarily dismiss a work’s worth or viability. In many ways publishing is a crapshoot. A book has to get to the right person at the right

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