Q&A: Anne Gisleson’s ‘The Futilitarians’ deals with aftermath of loss

Posted on Aug 29 2017 - 8:02am by Sarah Smith

Author and Southerner Anne Gisleson will promote her book, “The Futilitarians,” at 5 p.m Wednesday at Off Square Books. The novel deals with themes of loss and sorrow and serves as a testament to humankind’s resiliency. “The Futilitarians” shows readers how hope can bloom in the darkest of places.

anne gisleson

Photo courtesy: New Orleans Public Radio

1. How would you describe your book?

​Well, my 11-year-old son describes it to his friends as a “book about books,” and they immediately lose interest. I’d say it’s a memoir about how literature can deepen our engagement with our world, our own lives and the people around us.

2. Why write a book about this life experience?

It was definitely the timing of the creation of our Existential Crisis Reading Group. Our first meeting occurred almost simultaneously with the death of my father. All of our readings took an extra dimension for me, so I felt the imperative to explore them by writing the book. Also, the fact that we began the group in early January provided a perfect yearlong structure for the book, one reading for each chapter – 12 chapters. When we experience a great loss, that first year feels very intense and momentous as you work through the grief, reevaluate the past and try to move forward. As a writer, I couldn’t ignore how all of those things came together.

3. What excites you most about people reading your story?

I’m really excited for the opportunity to share the wonderful literature we read over that first year. I’m a teacher, so it’s what I do almost daily, but this is a much more intimate and wide-ranging format. I’m also looking forward to sharing our group’s insights and the sense of fun and possibility in our communal search for meaning​.​

4. What scares you the most about someone reading about your personal story?

​What scares me most is that someone may judge people I love and portray in the book in ways that I feel are inaccurate and that I have no control over, especially if these judgments are public and hurtful.

5. What are some of the best responses you’ve gotten from people who’ve read the book?

​I ​have a friend ​who recently experienced a sudden​ loss and is in the midst of fresh grief. I was worried about her reading “The Futilitarians” in such a raw state, but instead, she said the book made her feel less alone and isolated in her feelings. ​Another response ​I really appreciated was from a fellow writer who said I tackled big philosophical issues in a thoughtful way that was not boring.

6. What is your next book going to be about?

​It’s non-fiction and centered around the cultural and personal significance that bars and drinking hold for me. Obviously, most of it is inspired by growing up in New Orleans.

7. As someone from the South, how do you feel about doing a signing at one of our most famous book stores?

​I am super excited to be reading at the legendary Square Books. It feels like an important gateway that I must pass through.

8. Is there anything you would like people to know about your book?

​That it’s not as depressing as it sounds!

9. Is there anything you would like people to know about yourself?

That I really do love and appreciate my life.​

10. Is there any advice you would have for young writers?

To read as much and as widely as possible is still my favorite advice.​ Also to recognize all of the “extra-literary” things that influence you – friends, family, music, shows, places – and embrace them. And when given the opportunity to share your work publicly, make sure it’s the absolute best you give.

I think we need originality, depth and thoughtfulness more than ever, and that those qualities can be expressed with a vast array of styles and voices.