Guernica Magazine

Leanne Shapton: “The mix of proof, shock, and totally crappy images.”

Writer and illustrator Leanne Shapton gives us a tour through her studio and shows us her mock layouts, her collection of ghost stories, and the pile of scrapbooks she found on Etsy. The post Leanne Shapton: “The mix of proof, shock, and totally crappy images.” appeared first on Guernica.

Conceived by Mary Wang, Miscellaneous Files is a series of virtual studio visits that uses screenshots from writers’ digital devices to understand their practice.

Leanne Shapton understands that negative space—whether on a canvas or in a short story—is as important as what’s in the foreground. Her writing has a certain painterly gaze; she often leaves sentences unfinished, events untold, and spaces blank—whether in Swimming Studies, an autobiographical account of her experiences as a competitive swimmer; Important Artifacts and Personal Property from The Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry, an intimate study of a couple’s broken relationship in the form of a fictional auction catalog; or Women in Clothes, a book she made with writers Sheila Heti and Heidi Julavits about how and why women get dressed. Shapton takes a similar approach to her work as an illustrator, creating characteristically precise book covers for works by Alice Munro, Jane Austen, and Virginia Woolf. It’s true, too, of the books she both writes and illustrates: In Was She Pretty?, an exploration of jealousy, Shapton evokes a collection of other people’s exes through nonchalant black brushstrokes and a few lines of text.

The pleasure of diving into her work comes in part from the way she relies on her audience to interpret things—things that might be visible, or might not—and the way she creates an open space that invites the reader to practice a form of empathy as profound as her own. As she writes in a spare yet specific description of a swimmer in Swimming Studies, “In lane one is an eighteen-year-old vegetarian who keeps spiders as pets. Her mother died of cancer when she was twelve.”

In published in March,Shapton takes her exploration of absences even further, with a collection of short stories that addresses guests, ghosts, and other lingering presences in our lives. The stories take varied forms: One is a page-long hearsay relaying a mysterious tale told at a party, while another—a haunting account of the life of an estate and the generations of family members

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