Interview by John Wisniewski
John Wisniewski: When did you begin writing, Lili?
Lili Anolik: I was a bad sleeper as a kid. I just was never not awake. The rule my parents came up with was that I had to be in bed at a certain time, but that I didn’t have to turn off the light until I was good and ready. (And I was never ready.) So I read and read and read. It’s a habit I’ve never broken. And, somehow, writing just grew out of it.
John Wisniewski: How did you get interested in the life and writing of Eve Babitz, to write a book about her?
Lili Anolik: Back in 2010, I saw some quote of Eve’s. I don’t remember the exact quote, but it was, of course, about L.A. and sex. And Instantly, I was entranced. All her books were out of print at that point, but I tracked one down, Slow Days, Fast Company, and I just went crazy for it. I thought the sensibility was strange, beautiful, playful, totally wild and idiosyncratic. And the prose really swung. It was loose and slangy, raffish yet elevated. And then there was her feeling for place, for L.A., which is this paradoxical city—it’s a beautiful city but it’s a haunted city, and there’s all this optimism and hope in it, but there’s an underlying melancholy, too. Eve captured all that. She was the secret genius of Los Angeles, I was convinced.
I poked around a bit. There was so little out there on her, but what was there was intriguing. She’d posed naked for a photo back in 1963, when she was 20, playing chess with the French surrealist Marcel Duchamp. And she had an impressive sex resume. Had bedded Jim Morrison, Harrison Ford, Ed Ruscha. (Of course I’d later find out that that was just the first page of her sex resume.) The last detail I was able to glean: she’d been in a devastating fire in the late 90s. It stopped her from writing, and from seeing people.
I loved Slow Days so much I felt compelled to do something beyond corny and write Eve a fan note, only I had nowhere to send it. Eve had zero Internet presence, zero social media presence. Finally, out of sheer desperation, I looked in the phonebook. And, lo and behold, there she was. I was actually in L.A. at the time, visiting my younger brother, who was at USC for business school. As it happened, his apartment was only a few blocks from hers. So I walked the letter over, slipped it under her door. And heard nothing. I wrote more fan notes, I even called her—and I hate cold-calling—more nothing. This went on for two years.
Then, In 2012, I got the chance to pitch Vanity Fair. I pitched Eve. The magazine went for it. During those two years of total silence from Eve, I started befriending her people–her sister, her cousin, several of her many, many, (many) ex-boyfriends. Finally, Eve got curious. Or maybe she just got hungry. Either way, she told one of those exes to tell me that I could take her to lunch. I flew from New York to L.A. the next morning.
I wrote the piece for Vanity Fair, which was long but just scratched the surface. (The experience of writing that piece was so strange for me because my craziness for Eve turned out to be catching. It infected other people. The secret genius of Los Angeles was a secret no longer because I’d blabbed. All of her books are now back in the print. There’s a TV show about her life in the works at Hulu. And she’s become a Millennial icon.) And then I wrote the book for Scribner, which, I hope, went below the surface.
John Wisniewski: Why do you think Eve’s writings are catching on now?
Lili Anolik: I’m glad you asked because this is something I thought about so often after I wrote the Vanity Fair piece on Eve, but while I was working on the book on Eve: How come she’s resonating now, more than twenty years after she stopped writing? If anyone seems antithetical to the #MeToo moment, it’s Eve. (“All I cared about anyway was fun and men and trouble,” she said in L.A. Woman.) Yet she’s blown up, has become a full-fledged literary celebrity. And she was more or less ignored during her actual career, in the post-Pill, pre-AIDS, loosey-goosey 70s, when her sensibility and the sensibility of the times were in perfect allignment. My own theory is that there’s a mood of the moment, and then there’s a mood under that mood, and when you tap into the mood under the mood you’re really onto something. Joan Didion, for example, did it when she wrote Slouching Towards Bethlhem, a dark, unhappy, anxious book and in love with doom, published in 1968, at the height of the hippy-dippy, free-love movement. If Joan was our secret Super Ego back then, Eve is our secret Id right now.
John Wisniewski: Could you tell us about writing “Dark Rooms”? Are you a reader of mystery
Lili Anolik: I tried to be a novelist, but I’m not a novelist. When I admitted this fact, I felt completely liberated. For me, it was the literary version of coming out of the closet.
John Wisniewski: What is it like, being the editor of Vanity Fair?
Lili Anolik: I wouldn’t know! I’m what’s called “a contributing editor” for Vanity Fair. That’s magazine-speak for writer. I’ve never edited professionally.
John Wisniewski: Can we talk about Eve once more. Joan Didion was an admirer of Eve’s
Writing.Could you tell us more about this?
Lili Anolik: Didion was certainly an early supporter of Eve’s. And the two were friends. They ran in the same circle in the early 70s, what I think of as the Earl McGrath circle, which also included a pre-Harrison Ford Harrision Ford (before Ford was a movie star; when he was working as a carpenter/pot dealer), Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and Papas, a bunch of the L.A. artists like Ed Ruscha and Ron Cooper. Didion is the reason Eve got published in the first place. Didion recommended Eve’s piece on the girls of Hollywood High, “The Sheik,” to Rolling Stone, and Rolling Stone took the recommendation. In my opinion, though, Eve’s relationship with Didion went beyond mere friendship; it was primal. To me, they are necessary to one another. Eve is the yin to Didion’s yang, or vice-versa. You can’t talk about Eve without talking about Didion. They wrote about the same time and place, and in some cases, the same people. (Didion dedicated The White Album to Earl McGrath. The ending for Dididion’s Play It as It Lays comes from a story Michelle Phillips told at a party at Eve’s apartment that Didion happened to overhear.)