Unless you live in New Jersey, you probably cannot get Nick Ripatrazone to come over to your house for dinner, which is a shame, because he has the marks of a marvelous conversationalist. Fortunately, he blogs prolifically at The Millions and his writing appears all over the internet, so we can all enjoy him from afar. He writes about film, politics, and literature with wit, erudition, and depth, drawing on his voracious reading habits and a decade of work as a high school English teacher—a profession about which he is entirely unsentimental and yet holds an ambitiously large view. Culturally omnivorous, he is as likely to draw on Gerard Manley Hopkins or James Baldwin as A Nightmare on Elmstreet. Some of his recurring favorites, besides of course O’Connor and Hopkins, are Thomas Pynchon, William Gass, and Anne Sexton—but his field of literary interest is vast. If you can’t figure out what to read next, fall down the Ripatrazone internet wormhole here, and he’ll help you build up your list fast.
Nick Ripatrazone’s newest book is Ember Days: a novella & stories. He is the author of several other books of fiction and poetry, as well as The Fine Delight, an examination of American Catholic literature since Vatican II. He is a staff writer for The Millions and a contributing editor for The Marginalia Review of Books. He has also written for Esquire, The Kenyon Review, Shenandoah, The Sewanee Review, Image, Commonweal, The Iowa Review, Colorado Review, Verse Daily, Beloit Fiction Journal, The Mississippi Review, and other publications. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and twin daughters.
I am working on a new book of stories and a memoir about teaching. I am sure the two books intersect on subconscious levels, but they feel rather independent on the page.
I have been revisiting a lot of early Thomas Pynchon and Flannery O’Connor, and am fascinated how they are both Catholic jesters who moved in opposite aesthetic directions: Pynchon embracing the electronic, O’Connor parsing the pastoral. My new stories bounce between those two planes: the 1970s-1990s, when the electronic world was a series of continual, personal discoveries, contrasted with stories that exhibit the pull of the pastoral. I am hoping that these two strands of stories might unite, and that will likely be when the book feels finished.
The memoir (the title of the manuscript is The Last English Teacher) has been brewing for years. I have taught English at a public high school for the past decade, and have been collecting my published essays into a larger narrative. I have a lot of stories to tell: stories about kids, books, education culture, faith, and how being a father of twins has changed the way I view my students. The core of the book often returns to the power of the Humanities classroom to place imagination next to inquiry, self-reflection next to empathy. I am also interested in the metaphors we use about high school teaching, in particular: the idea of teaching as a vocation, being “in the trenches,” using the culture of manual labor to teach the craft of writing, and so on. I want the finished book to help more teachers to see teaching as a place of performance, a worthy profession—and to take back control over the narratives about teaching spun by politicians.