We spoke to David Adj­mi, author of Lot Six: A Mem­oir, on June 24th as part of our JBC Authors at the Table series — you can watch the thir­ty minute chat here. Check out below some ques­tions we did­n’t have time for and keep the con­ver­sa­tion going. See the whole line­up for JBC Authors at the Table.

Through­out the book, there’s an inter­play between exter­nal appear­ance and inter­nal real­i­ty — you try to rein­vent your­self on a deep­er lev­el by chang­ing your accent or clothes. Could you talk about the idea of Cul­ture” or fash­ion as its own reli­gion or code of morality?

Peo­ple are always either seek­ing or invent­ing a hier­ar­chy, or a means to get beyond them­selves. Every­one wants tran­scen­dence, I think, but most peo­ple don’t know how to con­cep­tu­al­ize tran­scen­dence, so they use social hier­ar­chies to mim­ic its fea­tures. Reli­gious cul­tures are like this too — and I think at the Yeshiv­ah I real­ly felt I was on the bot­tom of a hier­ar­chy. So when I became inter­est­ed in fash­ion, it wasn’t a form of self expres­sion, it was a deploy­ment. I was weaponiz­ing clothes for an effect. I want­ed to build a per­sona, and I want­ed that per­sona to help me tran­scend my life. I want­ed to be the most hand­some, the most strik­ing. And I think my attrac­tion to cul­ture was ini­tial­ly about the same thing: cul­ture was giv­ing me an out­side-in way of cre­at­ing a self. When I was younger I thought a per­sona was a self — I didn’t under­stand the dif­fer­ence. So the code, my com­pact with the world that I was build­ing in my teens and ear­ly twen­ties was actu­al­ly very shal­low. I only tapped into the deep­er spir­i­tu­al aspects of myself as a side effect of all this intense social jock­ey­ing. I began to under­stand that my own depth as a per­son wasn’t some­thing I should reject, that this was the key to my life, to my future, and that hier­ar­chies didn’t mat­ter. And that was when I actu­al­ly expe­ri­enced real transcendence.

I found myself lit­er­al­ly laugh­ing out loud at the dia­logue and voic­es you recre­ate. I’d love to know about your process and the deci­sions you made in trans­lat­ing these voic­es to the page. And also, for all the humor they add to the sto­ry, how might they reflect the theme of find­ing your own voice as a playwright?

I think there is some­thing incred­i­bly fetishis­tic about most play­wrights — in terms of how they observe and hear peo­ple. So these voic­es and my abil­i­ty to par­rot oth­er voic­es, this is just a gift I was born with. I ini­tial­ly wasn’t going to add much dia­logue to the book. I thought it should be more doc­u­men­tary ini­tial­ly, in terms of the accu­ra­cy of what peo­ple said. But of course that real­ly lim­it­ed me, and the book became very gen­er­al and insub­stan­tial as a result. My edi­tor and agent real­ly encour­aged me to take more lib­er­ty and invent dia­logue that was in the spir­it of what was said, so peo­ple could expe­ri­ence the truth of my lived expe­ri­ence. In terms of the sec­ond ques­tion, I real­ly believe we are each the ever evolv­ing prod­uct of every­one we meet and know, and there is no ques­tion my sen­si­bil­i­ty as a writer was informed by the peo­ple with whom I grew up. My voice is woven in with those oth­er voic­es, but at the same time my optic is very spe­cif­ic, and the way I fil­tered my envi­ron­ment into my plays is prob­a­bly just an innate part of me. I was born with the point of view, I think.

Over the course of the book, you take the read­er on a jour­ney with you, describ­ing the var­i­ous forms of Cul­ture you con­sumed. Out of the many films and writ­ers you cap­ture on the page as you’ve nav­i­gat­ed life, which are the ones that have stuck out as most for­ma­tive to who you are today?l

From lit­er­a­ture: Eliz­a­beth Hard­wick, James Bald­win, Nabokov, Proust, Edmund White, Hen­ry James, Edith Whar­ton, and Vir­ginia Woolf. I think Black Boy is one of the best mem­oirs ever writ­ten, I am com­plete­ly obsessed with that book. From film: Fass­binder, Char­lie Kauff­man, Pre­ston Sturges (I write a lit­tle bit about him in my book), David Lynch, Kubrick, Bri­an DePal­ma (I know he is prob­lem­at­ic, but I love him), Hitch­cock, Alt­man, and Hal Ashby.

What are you work­ing on next?

Well my play Stereo­phon­ic was sup­posed to open on Broad­way next spring, so we’ll see if the­atre opens up by then. And I am in talks to devel­op a musi­cal about Bri­an Wil­son cre­at­ing the Smile album — I think we are going to get to make that. I hope so. I am work­ing on my first nov­el, which I am describ­ing as The 40 Year Old Vir­gin meets The Mag­ic Moun­tain. I am doing rewrites on The Stum­ble, which is my play about Oscar Lev­ant and his obses­sion with George Gersh­win — and I am work­ing on anoth­er play called The Blind King that I devel­oped at Sun­dance last year.

I so admire your non-con­formist behav­ior, that chal­lenges the sta­tus quo and strug­gles with issues of moral­i­ty, high­light­ing social injus­tice, the way you delve in to explore your con­cept of G‑d. How do you cope dur­ing this pan­dem­ic and rec­on­cile your­self with feel­ing mar­gin­al­ized, your hunger for art, the­atre and dra­ma or dra­mat­ic per­for­mances and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty? How do you cre­ate or devel­op your spir­i­tu­al epiphanies?

Well Kaf­ka I think said that every­one should have eight epipha­nies a day. I don’t know if I have eight epipha­nies a decade. Or even one. Epipha­nies are hard to cul­ti­vate. But I am dis­ci­plined in my prac­tice as a writer — so even when the world is crum­bling around me, I write. I wrote every day of the pan­dem­ic. I wrote dur­ing the protests — I force myself to do it. Because if you don’t cul­ti­vate the con­di­tions reg­u­lar­ly to make great work, you can’t do it. And I think this is what has helped me with feel­ing mar­gin­al­ized, too — the dis­ci­pline, and my con­nec­tion to my work. I feel so lucky to have tal­ent and abil­i­ty, and to have a charge or a pur­pose. So even though I do feel lone­ly or mar­gin­al­ized at times, I feel very at home in my own head and inside my own imag­i­na­tive land­scape. I can very freely inhab­it my own imag­i­na­tion — which wasn’t always the case. And again, this was the result of dis­ci­pline and com­mit­ment, and learn­ing to sit with your own fail­ings. You just have to keep going.

David Adj­mi was called vir­tu­osic” by the New York Times and was named one of the Top Ten in Cul­ture by The New York­er in 2011. His plays have been pro­duced and devel­oped by the Roy­al Shake­speare Com­pa­ny, Soho Rep, Lin­coln Cen­ter, Step­pen­wolf and many oth­ers. He was award­ed a Mel­lon Foun­da­tion grant, the Guggen­heim Fel­low­ship, the Whit­ing Writ­ers’ Award, the Kessel­ring Prize for Dra­ma, the Stein­berg Play­wright Award (the Mimi”), McK­night and Jerome fel­low­ships, and the Bush Artists Fel­low­ship, among oth­ers. He is the recip­i­ent of res­i­den­cies from the Dora Maar House, Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Rome, the Boglias­co Foun­da­tion, The Mac­Dow­ell Colony, Cor­po­ra­tion of Yad­do, Djeras­si, UCross and oth­ers. He lives in Los Angeles.