Fathom Mag

“Storytelling makes things real.”

An artist profile of Paul Luikart, writer and drawer

Published on:
June 14, 2017
Read time:
3 min.
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Paul Luikhart is a multitalented man. On top of these fantastic answers to the question that he gives below, and his incredible art that is featured this issue, he also has a short story we are pleased to publish. I sincerely hope that you enjoy his work and are as impressed as I am with all the facets of his art. —Jonathan Minnema

What do you do and how can I find it?

I write and draw. You can find my book, Animal Heart, here and here. (Or, ask your local indie bookstore to order it!) I also write a twice-monthly opinion column for nooga.com that you can find here. I mainly opine about politics, issues related to poverty (e.g., homelessness), religion, and sometimes music.

Drawing and visual art are relatively new in my life in terms of “things I do seriously.” But you can find my stuff here. And, for the hell of it, here’s my high school soccer team. I’m #12. I spent most of this season on the bench with a busted ankle that I got from screwing around in practice. Serves me right. I realize I should probably get a website and consolidate this stuff. Or a Myspace profile at least.

How did you get started?

As far back as I can remember I’ve loved to write and draw. I remember drawing the Voltron lions and He-Man characters (He-Men?) with my elementary school classmates every morning before class actually started. When I was an undergrad, on summer breaks, my parents let me turn a room in the basement into a painting studio that I went Jackson Pollock on.

In fourth grade, I wrote a “novel” called Cody’s July Fourth Adventure. This kid (Cody) gets lost at a Cleveland Indians’ game and his on-field-baseball-player-hero rescues him and returns him to his family in the stands. There are, to put it mildly, obvious plot holes.

In high school, a girl I loved broke up with me, which forced me to become a poet for a while. So for a few years I staggered around writing bits of poetry in my journal and drawing in a sketchbook. And then I sort of left all of that for a long time and lived life and after a number of years, writing and drawing came back to me and asked to be taken seriously, and I’ve tried to do that ever since. 

What is the coolest story you have about doing what you do?

I am so lucky as an artist. There have been so many people who have supported me and encouraged me. My wife, my family, my friends, my professors. Readers who have deigned to read what I put on paper. I think that collective support is the ongoing coolest story for me. That’s a bit of a vague answer.

Oh, I went on a book tour! Last summer. That was the coolest specific thing. I got to visit these independent bookstores all over the country and share my work and see friends and family in the process. It was very nice to discover with certainty that the American independent bookstore is alive and well. I get spooked every now and then that Barnes & Noble and Amazon are stealing all the books, but there are so many hip indie bookstores across the country run by so many great people who just love books. 

Who or what is the biggest inspiration for your work?

That’s a good question. I’m inspired to write by men and women who live in poverty. Not that I have some kind of authority to speak for people who live in poverty (I don’t), but it’s important to me to process and convey what I observe is happening among “the least of these.” Their stories are usually forgotten by society as a whole.

The stakes are high and the stories are rich and I think the only real way anybody else besides the people who live in poverty can understand a glimmer of what it’s like is via storytelling. Storytelling makes things real.

I’m inspired by a lot of authors and artists too. Nelson Algren, Raymond Carver, Graham Greene, Denis Johnson, Cormac McCarthy, Tim O’Brien, and Annie Proulx are the famous authors who readily come to mind. Visually, I’m inspired by Willem de Kooning, Phil Guston, Jackson Pollock, and Frank Lloyd Wright. There are many others of course, but the works of those writers and artists have always had a lot of meaning for me.

If you could give advice for someone who is doing what you’re doing, what would it be?

Never, ever, ever give up.

Paul Luikart
Paul Luikart’s work has appeared in numerous literary journals, magazines, and websites. His first collection of short stories, called Animal Heart, was released by Hyperborea Publishing in May 2016. His MFA is from Seattle Pacific University. In addition, he has studied fiction writing at Miami University, the University of Chicago, and the Collegeville Institute at St. John’s University in Minnesota. He lives with his wife and daughters in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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