Geoff Dyer would tell you he found his way into writing as a way of not having a career. With ever-ready tennis raquet in his book bag, he seems pretty much the man we all want to be when we grow up. He’s a pissed-off Englishman but light-hearted about it. He’s learned, he’s liberated. He’s prolific, he’s celebrated. And he’s very, very funny, in person as on the page. We’re making conversation here at the Key West Literary Seminar this winter.
Geoff Dyer hooked me 15 years ago with But Beautiful, an inspired set of improvisations on the sacrificial lives of jazz geniuses (Lester Young, Thelonious Monk, Chet Baker, Bud Powell) whom Dyer (astonishingly to me) had never seen or heard in life. He is famous since then for Out of Sheer Rage about his constitutional inability to write a scholar’s account D. H. Lawrence. He has served a long apprenticeship with the hero he speaks about here: the anti-critic and anti-theorist John Berger. Meantime when Dyer writes from the road about importunate Cambodian kids trying to sell him a Coke — he lifts the travel essay toward a very personal moral majesty.
What’s so individual about Geoff Dyer is the mix of amateur and expert voices — of the angry working-stiff with an Oxford degree who’s judgmental but always original on photography and poetry, history, fiction and that “foreign music” known as jazz, just for starters. He’s in the great line of stylish pubic thinkers from Hazlitt to George Scialabba, writing ever “outside his field,” because in truth he has no field. He invites and challenges all of us to pay attention to everything, to look at what we’re seeing, to get us into the act, to be touched by it.