NEA Literature Fellowships

Lance Olsen

Back to NEA Literature Fellowships
(2006 - Prose)

From the novel Nietzche's Kisses

Listen closely: you can hear my clothing.

My hospital gown breathing.

I should perhaps take this opportunity to point out I would much rather be a Basel professor than God and yet, alas, one is who one is—until one isn't who one is, naturally, at which heart thump one is someone else.

The general impression I want to say being that of drifting in a fog on Lake Lucerne.

On holiday once, on holiday in Tribschen, I launched from Wagner's dock at the edge of the yellow splash of wildflowers: the city's spires, the fountains, the church bells reaching me from the far side of the water, the spring sun rushing over my shoulders.

I rowed east toward the rocky horizon, bagful of chocolates on the seat beside me, until my arms ached, then pulled in the oars and lay back in the belly of my boat to lose myself in sugar and reflection.

I must have dozed because when I opened my eyes again everything was slate cloud, and, sitting up, I discovered the universe had disappeared.

I could barely even make out the lakewater lapping my craft's side.

I raised my oars and began to row. Pushing through the gray veils, I had the intimation it would take me all night to reach land. I therefore altered my course, only to find myself worrying I had altered it for the worse, that prior to this alteration I had been rowing in more or less the correct direction.

Imagine: the abrupt moment of contact with shore never coming.

It felt as if I would row on and on through emptiness forever.

I want to say now, here, lying beneath these hot sheets, sweating, sweating and endeavoring to think, it is precisely the same sensation, only in time.

I can no longer seem to remember whether I'm remembering or believing I'm remembering when I'm not remembering at all.

I want to say I holidayed in Tribschen.

I want to say I did not.

Every day people tell me the most remarkable things about my life.

They recount, by way of illustration, the quiet evenings I shared with this friend or that.

Did I by any chance enjoy myself? I ask.

It matters to me, you see.

Lance Olsen was born in 1956 and received a BA from the University of Wisconsin (1978), an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop (1980), and an MA (1982) and PhD (1985) from the University of Virginia. He is an author of seven novels, one hypertext, four critical studies, four short-story collections, a poetry chapbook, and a textbook about fiction writing, as well as editor of two collections of essays about innovative contemporary fiction. His short stories, essays, poems, and reviews have appeared in a wide variety of journals and anthologies, including Fiction International, Iowa Review, Village Voice, Time Out, BOMB, Gulf Coast, and Best American Non-Required Reading. A Pushcart Prize recipient, and a former Idaho Writer-in-Residence, his work has been translated into Italian, Polish, and Finnish. His novel Tonguing the Zeitgeist (Permeable Press) was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award. He lives somatically with his wife, assemblage-artist Andi Olsen, in the mountains of central Idaho, and digitally at Olsen's next novel, Nietzsche's Kisses, will appear from FC2 in the spring of 2006.

Photo courtesy of the author

Author's Statement

I'm stunned. I'm honored. I'm heady with thrill and possibility. I can't thank the NEA enough for its faith in my work, which is really faith in innovative fiction, which is really faith in all fiction that asks questions of itself, its language, its processes, the world and how we inhabit it. This fellowship will allow me to bring to fruition my novel-in-progress. Nothing could make me happier.