Nick Flynn

Award-winning Memoirist & Poet

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • Bewilderment
  • How to Write an Anti-War Poem
  • Politics & Poetry
  • The Elegy / The Art of Losing
  • The Art of Bewilderment
  • Emotional Rescue
  • Evoking Emotional Energy in Creative Non-fiction
  • Narrative Medicine
  • Creativity and the Clinical Imagination

“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

“Flynn’s books of poetry—Some EtherBlind HuberThe Captain Asks for a Show of Handsall 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.” —Rumpus

“Nick Flynn keeps resuscitating himself, and in doing so he refreshes and reaffirms the personal lyric as a crucial and necessary art. I read Nick Flynn’s poetry to feel alive.” —Marie Howe

Nick Flynn is the author of five books of poetry all published by Graywolf Press: I Will Destroy You (September 2019), My Feelings (2015); The Captain Asks For a Show of Hands (2011)—an emotional, resilient response to some of the essential issues of our day; Some Ether (2000), which won the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award; and Blind Huber (2002). Of Some Ether, 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.” And of 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.”

In January 2019, Ze Books will publish Stay, a collection of threads (ideas, images & thoughts) gathered together from all of Nick 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: Mark Adams, Amy Arbus, John Baldessari, Guy Barash, William Blake, David Brody, Kathline Carr, Mel Chin, Kevin Jerome Everson, Maeve Flynn, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Jared Handelsman, Daniel Heyman, Kahn & Selesnick, Alix Lambert, M.P. Landis, Zoe Leonard, Sarah Lipstate (Noveller), Gabriel Martinez, Marilyn Minter, Josh Neufeld, Catherine Opie, Doug Padgett, Jim Peters, Jack Pierson, Mischa Richter, Hubert Sauper, Sarah Sentilles, Bill Schuck, & Paul Weitz. (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.)

Nick grew up on Boston’s South Shore. He spent six years working in the Pine Street Inn, a Boston homeless shelter. In Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, Flynn recounts his tumultuous childhood and family life-with the uncanny trajectory that ultimately led his homeless father to seek shelter at the Pine Street Inn while Nick worked there. Poet 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.

The Judges’ statement for the 1999 PEN/ Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry 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…”

Nick Flynn’s website

Nick Flynn is the author of three memoirs, 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 DeNiro as Flynn’s father, Julianne Moore, and Paul Dano. He is the author of five books of poetry, I Will Destroy You (September 2019), My Feelings, The Captain Asks For a Show of Hands, Some Ether, which won the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award, and Blind Huber. In January 2019, Ze Books will publish Stay, a collection of threads (ideas, images & thoughts) gathered together from all of Nick Flynn’s twelve published books, along with excerpts of essays & interviews, presented alongside the collaborations that led to—or came out of—these writings. 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.

I WILL DESTROY YOU (Poetry, 2019)
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.

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 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.

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.

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


(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.


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?


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



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


—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.