Eavesdropper Interview: Austin Kleon.

Internet, meet Austin Kleon.
A poet, artist, and the author of the wildly popular Newspaper Blackout, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with Austin already.

When I first heard about him on NPR, I was immediately intrigued: Here was a poet who, instead of generating words on a page, started with a newspaper and crossed out the words he didn’t need.   

This was around 2008, when I first caught wind of Austin.  Then, when I read a story about him in The Austin Chronicle last year, I realized — oh my God!  He lives in my city, Austin, Texas.  I wondered if I’d ever get to meet him.

Austin’s funny horoscopes that he does each month, click to enlarge.
Fast forward to last weekend, when I did a massive “grub crawl” with a group of about 25 people.  We were assigned to sample as many food trailers as possible, and were divided up into teams for the task.  I started talking to this portrait artist in my group.  
What do you do?  I asked.  Well, I sometimes do sketches of bands and musicians, he replied, but the main thing I guess I’m known for is blacking out words in newspapers and–
I realized it was indeed Austin Kleon, and after I calmed down a little bit, we talked about his work and his book.  In between bites of Cuban pork sandwiches, chocolate cake balls, and (at one point) a gooey maple bacon doughnut monstrosity, I asked him if he would be up for an interview on Austin Eavesdropper sometime.  And he said ok.

Austin also has an ongoing project called De-Signs, which is as equally witty as the horoscopes.

To celebrate Austin Eavesdropper’s newly-revamped look, I’m doing a series of “Eavesdropper Interviews” of various artists who inspire me, and encourage me to live a more creative life.  Austin is our very first, and I hope you are as jazzed about him as I am.

1. Hi Austin, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I grew up reading and drawing and writing and playing music in a house in the middle of a cornfield in southern Ohio. I’m an artist, but I’ve always had day jobs: I’ve been a librarian, a web designer, and now I’m a copywriter. I moved to Austin about four years ago, and I live in a little house on the east side with my wife Meghan and our dachshund Milo. 

2. You write poetry with a newspaper and a Sharpie. When did you start doing this?

I started making the poems and blogging them at www.austinkleon.com in 2005, when I was right out of college. They slowly got more and more popular over the years, and HarperCollins published a collection of them, Newspaper Blackout, in 2010. Now I sell fine art prints and run a website where folks can submit their own blackout poems, newspaperblackout.com.

3. One of the best things about your poetry is that — in addition to having such an innovative form — it’s also really funny.

Who are your humor inspirations?

I love comic strips like Peanuts, Far Side, and Achewood, I love stand-up comedy, especially Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin, but also Louis CK and John Waters, and I love TV shows like Arrested Development and movies like Groundhog Day.

4. Your book, Newspaper Blackout, got ridiculous media!   I think I like the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s description best, “Sort of like Michelangelo carving away the marble that imprisoned what he saw within.” What was your favorite response (from media or even just a person) to the book?

The press is great, but my favorite thing is the magic that happens when we do a Newspaper Blackout workshop and all these strangers fill the room with marker fumes and then they start coming up to the front and actually reading their poems. It’s amazing. I don’t even bother “reading” at my readings. I just bring markers and newspapers. Playtime for adults — it’s very rare that adults are given art supplies and asked to make something for no good reason.

5. This is one of my favorite things you have written: “You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.” Name 5 things in the Austin Kleon mash-up.

Pictures, words, Mom, Dad, whiskey. 

6. I’ve always liked the fact that you are a pro-print person, like me. You like touching newspaper and making art out of it. You are wary of too much computer time and this too resonates with me. So what are some of your favorite books?

I love everything Kurt Vonnegut and Lynda Barry and Saul Steinberg ever put out. I love Joe Brainard’s I Remember, which is a memoir made up of a bunch of sentences that begin with “I Remember…” I love Carl Jung’s memoir, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. I love Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems. I love William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow. I love David Hockney’s book, Secret Knowledge. So many books! Since 2005, I’ve kept lists of the best things I read every year.
7. Your graduation talk, “How to Steal Like an Artist,” is going viral.  I absolutely love your advice here about living a creative life. 

Knowing there are several wonderful tips you offer people, what do you think is the key to living a creative life?

I’m not sure, honestly.

Picasso said, “All children are artists.” All the really, really good artists I know are like kids when they’re making stuff. They’re concentrating real hard, and they have their tongue sticking out, you know? They’re playing. They’re using their hands.

Kids have tons of energy. They haven’t been worn out yet. They don’t have to pay bills and mow the lawn.

You have to tap into that energy reserve, I think. And you have to not waste your energy.

Lots of artists act like children, but not at the right time and place! You need to save that stuff up for when you’re in your office making things!

8. What is your favorite children’s book?

Ed Emberley’s Make A World.

9. And finally, you and I recently did a food trailer crawl together. What was the best thing you tasted?

The frickin’ strawberry shortcake donut at Gourdoughs with cream cheese frosting. OMG.