Nick Flynn

Bestselling Memoirist
Award-winning Poet
Playwright and Essayist

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • The Art of Bewilderment in Poetry & Memoir
  • Evoking Emotional Energy in Creative Non-fiction
  • The Last Elegy (aka The Art of Losing)
  • Addiction & Grace
  • Is it “Homeless” or “The Working Poor?”
  • How to Write an Anti-War Poem
  • Collaboration Among the Arts
  • Interdisciplinary Art / Hybridity
  • Text as Object, Text as Performance


“By allowing readers to witness his artistic and psychic efforts, Flynn shows us the hard work of creating, and surviving, at once.” —Rumpus

“If the battered genre of memoir is ever to regain its luster and intention, its rightful heritage of memory and impression, then Flynn is one of its most passionate and skilled advocates.” —San Francisco Chronicle

Critically acclaimed author and artist Nick Flynn is the author of six books of poetry, four memoirs, and a play. One of the most inventive writers at work today, his poetry and prose both explore the tenuous membrane that separates our comfortable, everyday existence from the ragged margins of society. The questions he poses are tough and urgent.

His memoirs—all published by W. W. Norton—are This is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire (August 2020), The Reenactments (2013), The Ticking Is the Bomb: A Memoir of Bewilderment (2010), and the groundbreaking Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (2004), which was made into the film entitled Being Flynn, starting Robert De Niro as his father, Juliette Moore as his mother, and Paul Dano as Nick. His newest poetry book Stay (2020) is the fist of a series of books envisioned by Ze Books. His other collections, published by Graywolf Press, are I Will Destroy You (2019), My Feelings (2015), The Captain Asks For a Show of Hands (2011), Blind Huber (2002), and Some Ether (200). The Rumpus writes, “Flynn’s books of poetry…all ask difficult questions and leave us with a beautiful acceptance that there is often no answer at all, that our memories arrange things in ways that may or may not offer closure. There is something about his work that allows us to exhale, to sit in our own messes and be okay.”

In Stay, Flynn presents a self-portrait via a a mixed-media retrospective—what Mary Ruefle calls a ‘monumental compendium’—that shows nothing is created in isolation. The constellation of topics that has circled his work ranges from the impact of suicide and homelessness to addiction, political engagement, and the vital power of artistic friendships. It is a collection of threads (ideas, images & thoughts) gathered together from all of Flynn’s twelve published books, along with excerpts of essays & interviews, presented alongside the collaborations that led to—or came out of—these writings. Collaborators include such luminaries as the photographers Amy Arbus and Catherine Opie, composer Guy Barash, actor Robert De Niro, cartoonist Josh Neufeld, author Sarah Sentilles, and filmmaker Paul Weitz.

The poems in his last book I Will Destroy You interrogate the potential of art to be redemptive, to remake and reform—but first the maker of art must claim responsibility for his past, his actions, his propensity to destroy others and himself. Reflecting on an earlier collection, My Feelings, Marie Howe says, “Here he is again, writing as if his life depends on it, using every trick he can find to carve the tunnel through the mountain. Words are what he uses; silence is the sound they make.” And of Some Ether, which won the 1999 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry, Claudia Rankine wrote: “In their roaming uneasiness, these poems enact the hypodermic activity of grief. We are guided by a stunning and solitary voice into lives that have spiritually and physically imploded. No one survives and still there is so much to be felt. Here is sorrow and madness reconciled to humanity.” The Judges’ statement for the PEN/ Joyce Osterweil Award declared, “Nick Flynn’s subject—a mother’s suicide, a son’s peripatetic childhood—could not be more difficult to approach. If [his] poems stand ‘close to tragedy,’ as Flynn puts it, they also embody the act of survival: syntax and line conspire to pull us past the event, beyond the struggle. And yet the ghost of trauma lingers, ramifying beyond the exquisitely understated endings of Flynn’s poems. Even more powerful than the final line of ‘My Mother Contemplating Her Gun’—‘Tomorrow it will still be there’—is the silence that follows it, the knowledge that nothing lasts. These poems establish their emotional authority through their very movement—their wayward, whispering music. At once reckless and demure, outrageous and delicate.”

Flynn’s 2020 memoir This is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire, confronts Flynn’s struggle and his failings―including a five- year affair, begun when his daughter was a toddler―with fierce candor. Alternating literary analysis and philosophy with intimate memoir and the bedtime stories he tells his daughter, Flynn probes his deepest ethical dilemmas. His book The Ticking Is the Bomb: A Memoir of Bewilderment (2010) addresses the Abu Ghraib scandal. In Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, Flynn recounts his childhood and family life—with the uncanny trajectory that ultimately led his homeless father to seek shelter at the Pine Street Inn—a Boston homeless shelter—while Nick worked there. Mark Doty opines, “Nick Flynn has given us one of the most terrifying families in American letters, though he approaches each character in this ferocious, inventive memoir with an almost radical sense of compassion, as if all that any of us could do were to stumble ahead with the burdens we are given. The result is a book so singular, harrowing and loving as to be indelible.” Another Bullshit Night joins the ranks of a small group of unforgettable late twentieth-century American memoirs, such as Mary Karr’s The Liars Club and Frank Conroy’s Stop-Time.

Flynn is also the author of a play, Alice Invents a Little Game and Alice Always Wins. He was an artistic collaborator on the film Darwin’s Nightmare, a 2006 Academy Award nominee for best feature documentary. He has been awarded fellowships from The Guggenheim Foundation, The Library of Congress, The Amy Lowell Trust, and The Fine Arts Work Center. His poems, essays, and non-fiction have appeared in The New Yorker, the Paris Review, National Public Radio’s This American Life, and The New York Times Book Review. Since 2016, he has been performing with his band Killdeer, a collaboration with Simi Stone, Philip Marshall, and Guy Barash. His work has been translated into fifteen languages.

Flynn teaches creative writing at the University of Houston, and splits his time between Houston and Brooklyn, New York.

Nick Flynn’s website


Nick Flynn is the author of four memoirs: This is the Night our House will Catch Fire, The Reenactments, The Ticking is the Bomb: A Memoir of Bewilderment, and Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which has been made into a film, Being Flynn, starring Robert De Niro as Flynn’s father, Julianne Moore, and Paul Dano. He is the author of six books of poetry: Stay, I Will Destroy You, My Feelings, The Captain Asks For a Show of Hands, Some Ether, which won the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award, and Blind Huber. Flynn has been awarded fellowships from The Guggenheim Foundation, The Library of Congress, The Amy Lowell Trust, and The Fine Arts Work Center. His poems, essays, and non-fiction have appeared in The New Yorker, the Paris Review, National Public Radio’s This American Life, and The New York Times Book Review. Since 2016, he has been performing with his band Killdeer, a collaboration with Simi Stone, Philip Marshall, and Guy Barash. His work has been translated into fifteen languages. Flynn teaches creative writing at the University of Houston, and splits his time between Houston and Brooklyn, New York.


THIS IS THE NIGHT OUR HOUSE WILL CATCH ON FIRE (Memoir, 2020)
A searing memoir from critically acclaimed author Nick Flynn, on how childhood spills into parenthood. When Nick Flynn was a child, his mother set fire to their home. With the spare lyricism and dark irony of his classic, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, Flynn excavates the terrain of his traumatic upbringing and his mother’s suicide. Now a parent himself, he discovers that he too may be burning his house down. He returns with his young daughter to the landscape of his youth, reflecting on how his “feral childhood” has him still in its reins. This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire confronts Flynn’s struggle and his failings―including a five- year affair, begun when his daughter was a toddler―with fierce candor. His marriage in crisis, Flynn seeks answers from his therapist, who tells him: “You have the ethics of a drowning man.” Alternating literary analysis and philosophy with intimate memoir and the bedtime stories he tells his daughter, Flynn probes his deepest ethical dilemmas.

STAY (Poetry, 2020)
With Stay, acclaimed poet, artist, and bestselling memoirist Nick Flynn presents a self-portrait via a constellation of topics that have circled his work. Ranging from the impact of suicide and homelessness to addiction, political engagement, and the vital power of artistic friendships, Stay is a mixed-media retrospective that shows nothing is created in isolation. Mirroring Flynn’s life, this work of visual and literary memoir is populated by examples of his collaborations since the 1980s with such luminaries as the photographers Amy Arbus and Catherine Opie, composer Guy Barash, actor Robert De Niro, cartoonist Josh Neufeld, author Sarah Sentilles, filmmaker Paul Weitz, and artists John Baldessari, Marilyn Minter, and Bill Shuck. In Flynn’s refusal to conform to narrative or the safety of his own perspective, Stay grasps for an essential truth, an answer to what art, in the end, can and cannot reflect. (Stay is the fist of a series of books envisioned by Ze Books. Each edition of Ze Books brings together in one place the work of a writer who has some relationship with visual culture.)

I WILL DESTROY YOU (Poetry, 2019)

“Both ferocious and luring, I Will Destroy You skillfully awakens and wrestles with the inner tensions of the collective unconscious. Feral impulses of self-scrutiny delve into the depths of addiction, temptation, infidelity, and repressed memory. What does one risk, or let go of, in order to live? —Bomb Interview by Yvonne Conza

Beginning with a poem called “Confessional” and ending with a poem titled “Saint Augustine,” I Will Destroy You interrogates the potential of art to be redemptive, to remake and reform. But first the maker of art must claim responsibility for his past, his actions, his propensity to destroy others and himself. “Begin by descending,” Augustine says, and the poems delve into the deepest, most defeating parts of the self: addiction, temptation, infidelity, and repressed memory. These are poems of profound self-scrutiny and lyric intensity, jagged and probing. I Will Destroy You is an honest accounting of all that love must transcend and what we must risk for its truth.

MY FEELINGS (Poetry, 2015)

“Each word is a lit match, a thrown stone, a howling blast, a choking torrent. Flynn has forged daringly intimate and clarion poems of conscience.” Booklist

A daring and intimate new book by the poet and memoirist Nick Flynn, “a champion of contemporary American poetry.” In My Feelings, Nick Flynn makes no claims on anyone else’s. These poems inhabit a continually shifting sense of selfhood, in the attempt to contain quicksilver realms of emotional energy—from grief and panic to gratitude and understanding.

THE REENACTMENTS (Memoir, 2013)
For Nick Flynn, that game we all play—the who-would-play-you-in-the-movie-of-your-life game—has been answered. The Reenactments is the story of adapting Flynn’s memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, into the film Being Flynn. It is also a searing meditation on consciousness, representation, and grief. Flynn describes the surreal experience of being on set during the reenactments of the central events of his life: his father’s long run of homelessness and the suicide of his mother. He tells the story of Robert De Niro’s first meeting with his father in Boston and of watching Julianne Moore attempt to throw herself into the sea. Expanding on the themes raised by these reenactments, Flynn weaves in meditations on the enigmatic Glass Flowers exhibition at Harvard University, alongside Ramachandran’s experiments with sufferers of phantom limb syndrome, to create a compelling argument about the eternal nature of grief.

THE CAPTAIN ASKS FOR A SHOW OF HANDS (Poetry, 2011)
The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands is Nick Flynn’s first new poetry collection in nearly a decade. What begins as a meditation on love and the body soon breaks down into a collage of voices culled from media reports, childhood memories, testimonies from Abu Ghraib detainees, passages from documentary films, overheard conversations, and scraps of poems and song, only to reassemble with a gathering sonic force. It’s as if all the noise that fills our days were a storm, yet at the center is a quiet place, but to get there you must first pass through the storm, with eyes wide open, singing. Each poem becomes a hallucinatory, shifting experience, through jump cut, lyric persuasion, and deadpan utterance. This is an emotional, resilient response to some of the essential issues of our day by one of America’s riskiest and most innovative writers.

THE TICKING IS THE BOMB: A MEMOIR OF BEWILDERMENT (Memoir, 2010)
In 2007, during the months before Nick Flynn’s daughter’s birth, his growing outrage and obsession with torture, exacerbated by the Abu Ghraib photographs, led him to Istanbul to meet some of the Iraqi men depicted in those photos. Haunted by a history of addiction, a relationship with an unsteady father, and a longing to connect with his mother who committed suicide, Flynn artfully interweaves in this memoir passages from his childhood; his relationships with women; and his growing obsession-a questioning of terror, torture, and the political crimes we can neither see not understand in post-9/11 American life. The time bomb of the title becomes an unlikely metaphor and vehicle for exploring the fears and joys of becoming a father. Here is a memoir of profound self-discovery-of being lost and found, of painful family memories and losses, of the need to run from love, and of the ability to embrace it again.

ANOTHER BULLSHIT NIGHT IN SUCK CITY (Memoir, 2004)
Nick Flynn met his father when he was working as a caseworker in a homeless shelter in Boston. As a teenager he’d received letters from this stranger father, a self-proclaimed poet and con man doing time in federal prison for bank robbery. Another Bullshit Night in Suck City tells the story of the trajectory that led Nick and his father onto the streets, into that shelter, and finally to each other. Stephen Elliot of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City succeeds in a way most writers can only dream of: It is intense, lyrical, moving and ultimately enlightening. This is a book about no less than the vale of blood and the permanence of familial relations. A strangely poignant meditation on the debt sons owe their fathers, even bad fathers, even fathers that weren’t around. And if none of that interests you, read it for the sentences, each one a poem, and the flow of the narrative that hurtles toward a conclusion both stunning and unexpected.”


Read “The Ethics of the Third Person” by Nick Flynn — Virginia Quarterly Online

Read “Belly of the Beast” by Nick Flynn – Poetry Foundation

THE REENACTMENTS (excerpt)

(2011) All hushed, seven of us huddle in a kitchen, stare into a monitor. It’s about to start. The actress playing my mother (Julianne Moore) stares back at us—she’s in the middle of a living room, the room is just behind this wall, but I haven’t gone into the living room, not yet. A set of headphones hangs from an empty chair with my name on them—Dan points to them, points to my head. It’s only the sixth day of shooting, we are in a house in Queens, the owner rents it out at times for films like this, films that contain flashbacks to 1970s smalltown America. This kitchen—paneling stamped to look like wood, avocado-green refrigerator, seamless linoleum floor that looks like tiny bricks—is perfect. It’s supposed to be my childhood home, but we will never step outside this house. Today and tomorrow are all interiors—-after that we will be gone. Julianne is soaking wet, having just failed to throw herself into the ocean. Or, rather, having failed to keep herself under the waves after she did. You will know this by the next scene, from the note she will write—I know it already, having read the script, having written the book, having been there the first time around. We are meant to imagine that the ocean is near—walking distance—near enough for her to still be wet, which it was. Julianne stands there, waits, eyes downcast, looking toward the familiar carpet, a version of the wall-to-wall we once had (textured, harvest gold). At ACTION she begins to sob, or wail. I think of Saramago’s Blindness, how no one was there, at the beginning of the universe, God’s hands (hands?) working the nothingness into the somethingness, yet everyone knows what happened.

THE TICKING IS THE BOMB (excerpt)

Here’s a secret: Everyone, if they live long enough, will lose their way at some point. You will lose your way, you will wake up one morning and find yourself lost. This is a hard, simple truth. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, consider yourself lucky. When it does, when one day you look around and nothing is recognizable, when you find yourself alone in a dark wood having lost the way, you may find it easier to blame it on someone else—an errant lover, a missing father, a bad childhood—or it may be easier to blame the map you were given—folded too many times, out-of-date, tiny print—but mostly, if you are honest, you will only be able to blame yourself.

One day I’ll tell my daughter a story about a dark time, the dark days before she was born, and how her coming was a ray of light. We got lost for a while, the story will begin, but then we found our way.

***

When asked, I’ll sometimes say I’m writing about torture, but I’ve found that when I say the word torture, many go glassy-eyed, as if I had just dropped a stone into a deep, deep well. When asked, I’ll sometimes say I’m writing about the way photographs are a type of dream, or I’ll say that I’m writing a memoir of bewilderment, and leave it at that, but what I mean is the bewilderment of what it is to wake up in an America that has legalized torture. What I don’t say, what I should say, is that what I’m really writing about is Proteus, the mythological creature who changes shape as you hold on to him, who changes into the shape of that which most terrifies you, as you ask him your question, your one simple question—the question is often simply a variation of How do I get home?

ANOTHER BULLSHIT NIGHT IN SUCK CITY (excerpt)

If you asked me about my father then—the years he lived in a doorway, in a shelter, in an ATM—I’d say, Dead, I’d say, Missing, I’d say, I don’t know where he is. I’d say whatever I felt like saying, and it would all be true. I don’t know him, I’d say, my mother left him shortly after I was born, or just before. But this story did not hold still for long. It wavered.

Even before he became homeless I’d heard whispers, sensed he was circling close, that we were circling each other, like planets unmoored.

FIRE (excerpt from poem)

more the idea of the flame than the flame,
as in: the flame

of the rose petal, the flame of the thorn
the sun is a flame, the dog’s teeth

flames

::

to be clear: with the body,

captain, we can do as we wish, we can do
as we wish with the body

but we cannot leave marks-capt’n I’m
trying to get this right

::

the world’s so small, the sky’s so high
we pray for rain it rains, we pray for sun it suns

we pray on our knees, we move our lips
we pray in our minds, we clasp our hands

our hands look tied before us

-from The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands

EMPTYING TOWN

—after Provincetown

Each fall this town empties, leaving me
drained, standing on the dock, waving bye-,
bye, the white handkerchief
stuck in my throat. You know the way Jesus

rips open his shirt
to show us his heart, all flaming & thorny,
the way he points to it. I’m afraid
the way I miss you

will be this obvious. I have

a friend who everyone warns me
is dangerous, he hides
bloody images of Jesus around my house

for me to find when I come home—Jesus
behind the cupboard door, Jesus tucked

into the mirror. He wants to save me
but we disagree from what. My version of hell
is someone ripping open his
shirt & saying,

look what I did for you.


Read What’s In Print

Interview: The Illusion of Permanence – Bomb

A World of Small Humiliations – 12th Street

The Denial of What We Can Least Deny: My Feelings by Nick Flynn – ZYZZYVA

Review: Some Thoughts on My Feelings – Entropy Magazine

Review: Looking Inward in Poetry Books — New York Times

Nick Flynn / weighs in: A prose writer unleashes poetry — Houston Chronicle

The three best poetry books for June — Washington Post

Review of My Feelings — New Pages

Bibliophile: Flynn discusses favorites and what he’s currently reading — The Boston Globe

• Review of Being Flynn — Roger Ebert

• Interview on Being Flynn — World Socialist Web Site

• Review of The Reenactments — Boston Globe

Interview with Nick Flynn — Poetry Society of America

• Review of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City — New York Times

Interview with Nick Flynn — Phantom Limb

• Review of The Ticking Is the Bomb — The Paris Review

• Excerpt from The Ticking is the Bomb — Esquire

• Review of The Reenactments — SF Gate

• Review of The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands — The Journal

Listen to Audio

Nick Flynn reads three poems from his collection, My Feelings – Poets & Writers

Interview with Nick Flynn – Commonplace: Conversations with Poets (and Other People)

Poetry & Memoir: Nick Flynn, Sarah Manguso, and Meghan O’Rourke — Poets House

• Poem on the Boston Marathon Bombing — The Story