Quick Temper with Brian Birnbaum


Brian Birnbaum grew up thirty minutes west of Camden Yards in Baltimore, where at four years old he cried because the Yankees were losing. An MFA graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, his work has been published or is forthcoming in The Smart Set, The Collagist, Atticus Review, SLAM Magazine, Lit Hub, Political Animal, and more. His first novel, Emerald City, is forthcoming from Dead Rabbits on September 15th, 2019, which is tomorrow. Brian is a child of Deaf adults (CODA) and works in development for the family sign language interpreting business. He lives in Harlem with the writer M.K, Rainey and their dog.

Here’s Quick Temper with Brian Birnbaum:

Why do you write? 

Because I absolutely have to. Because the world doesn’t make sense until I force myself to, through the use of contemporary times’ highest form of linguistic interpretation, figure it out–because cognitive language is mostly just noise and insanity and, more often than I’d like, a neural yarn of existential entanglement. Also because I really, really enjoy it. 

Who do you hope reads your work?

Anyone who’s so inclined. But, if I’m going to be all modern writer/businessperson about it and really parse out my target demo, I’d say underchallenged teenagers, young adults, and otherwise troubled souls whose lives might be changed by their relating to my characters’ suffering. But also, anyone who’s so inclined. 

Where does the anger in your work come from? How does it manifest?

From uncertainty, which breeds fear, which breeds rigid thinking, for which anger is a shitty palliative that, once worn off, leaves me feeling guilty and shameful about not being able to be in constant contact with the deeper truths of fear and uncertainty that drive my anger. I guess I’m just angry that life is so hard and that we’re mortal and constantly confronted with these facts, both a priori and a posteriori. Also, I loved sports as a kid, but when I got to high school, I started having panic attacks and couldn’t play anymore, not nearly to the ability I could’ve before, and this snowballed my sense of worthlessness and negative cycles of thinking. There are deeper traumas than this that I’m remiss to share because they’d require too many disclaimers and preemptive apologies, but the sports thing is a good metaphor for regret and resentment and their attendant anger, and it’s also a significant them in my novel. 

Anger can still be a tool if sublimated properly; i.e., if it’s recognized as rocket fuel that launches us into a higher state of understanding our suffering, rather than misinterpreted as a highly flammable catalyst for acts of emotional terrorism–to fight fire with fire, as they say. 

Angry book recommendations for angry readers?

There’s like a 0-.01% chance anyone will take up this behemoth of a biography, but I just read The Power Broker, which is about how this unelected official—Robert Moses—basically took over New York for much of the 20th century through sheer addiction to power. But not before, as a young idealist, his efforts to reform government were rebuffed by the Municipal Civil Service, which more or less prompted his lifelong quest for vengeance via overcompensation. 

Otherwise, check out Money by Martin Amis. That’s a good one about an angry alcoholic film producer. 

Brian Birnbaum will be reading with An Angry Reading Series on September 14, 2019. Come through! 

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