Don’t Write Alone | Interviews

Hilton Als Is Finding Language for the Inexpressible

In this conversation with Isabella Vega, Als discusses his new book ‘My Pinup,’ the nature of desire, and the vulnerability of writing.


Harper’s MagazineThe New Yorker

My Pinup: A Paean to PrinceMy Pinup

Isabella Vega: How did you begin writing? And how did it transpire into this legendary career?

IV: I think it’s so beautiful that your first experience of writing was out of love. Because I feel like so much of is about love. And one of the things that really struck me about the book was how you explore so many different dimensions of love. I remember in particular the pie that you had baked your boyfriend at the time that sat in your lap during the Prince concert. You also explore the dichotomy between how you loved Prince and the love you shared with your lovers. Why did you want to examine different forms of love throughout this book? And did writing it give you a new perspective on the dimensions of love that you have felt throughout your life?

IV: I remember listening to you on the podcast years ago, when you answered a listener’s question about her desire to be an artist. You said, “You are already an artist because you’re asking exactly the right questions.” That stuck with me. In listening to you speak and in reading your work, you made me realize that the writer isn’t just a passive observer watching life unfold around them but an active participant and a narrator in action. How did you come to this awareness of your craft?

IV: Is there any part of that felt the most necessary to include to aid in expressing forms of love?

IV: After reading , and as such a voracious reader of your work, I’ve wondered about celebrity culture, specifically the celebrity profile, which you have elevated into an artwork. You cut to the core of people so beautifully. Prince, throughout this book, is equal parts the fully fledged person you met and an amalgamation/representation of your lovers and your identity as a Black gay man. How did you explore the dichotomy between Prince as a human being and Prince as a cultural touchstone?

IV: I especially felt that idea of trusting your reader to see your subject. I’ve seen that throughout your work, particularly in your piece on the late André Leon Talley. Your subjects, who are public-facing people who are so often dehumanized, must feel so comforted with how you, as a writer, are fighting against [their dehumanization] and showing their fullest selves. Have you always had your hand on the pulse of other people’s vulnerability? Did it come naturally to you?