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Sixty on Sixty: Ray Figlewski

Ray Figlewski is one of the two editors at The Chicago Arts Archive. This week I sat down with him as part of  Sixty on Sixty, a series in which SIFCers interview one another, to learn more about what brought him to SIFC and what his life is like outside of editing.

ZJ: What kind of writing do you do outside of editing for SIFC?

RF: A bit of poetry, short fiction, and screen plays. I’ve been working on some ideas to eventually start a novel, which is sort of daunting. As a writer, I don’t think I’m there yet at all, so I’m taking baby steps.

ZJ: How did you first get into writing? How did you decide to pursue it?

RF: When I was younger I was a bit of a bookworm. I’ve always read, and it’s something that my mother and father have always encouraged me to do. So, that’s what I did for a long time when I was younger, and through that I’ve always written as well. It’s one of those [constants in my life] – I’ve done a lot of different work and traveled a lot but it’s always been that one thing that I never really thought about; it’s just the thing that I’ve always done. If I don’t do it, my mind gets clogged. I just get sort of boggled.

ZJ: So do you write everyday?

RF: Yeah. Nothing very prolific, but I write, even if it’s just going back to something that I wrote and adding to it or editing it, or writing something new. That’s why I like poetry in the sense that if you have a busy day or don’t have a lot of time, it allows for short bursts. A lot of it’s garbage, but it still says a lot in tiny little pieces.

ZJ: Do you have any favorite poets then?

RF: Man, I hate to sound cliché, but Charles Bukowski. I’ve been a die-hard Bukowski fan since – let’s just say I shouldn’t have started reading him when I did. It’s just something in the way he writes. I think he’s misunderstood, especially in the poetry world. I think he’s a bit underestimated. Right now, though, I’m reading a lot of John Berryman and Robert Creely.

Poetry gets the short end of the stick in my opinion. It has this cliché of being very flowery. For me, when I read poetry it has a lot of grit to it, this very human element, especially modern poetry. I think as writing goes, it’s the hardest. It’s a very difficult art form.

It’s very hard to say a lot in a very simplistic way. I have a lot of respect for poets. It’s one of those things where you don’t get a lot of respect or fame. I can’t name a poet who’s lived off poetry in the past fifty to sixty years. I guess that’s why I’m drawn to Bukowski. He lived off his work and was fine with being just that and being dirt poor.

Ray. Chicago, IL. 2011. (Image courtesy of Ray Figlewski)

ZJ: Did you decide to major in English off the bat?

RJ: I didn’t. There’s three generations before me that have been lawyers in my family. I went originally to study Poli-sci and then switched to Communications and then to English. My mom still wishes I would come home one day and say, “I’m going to be a lawyer.” When studying Communications I had a focus in Journalism. Then I realized if I’m going to focus in journalism I might as well have more [career] options and study English. Reading books and writing about them, that’s basically what my college career was.

ZJ: What’s your process like when you sit down to write?

RF: It depends on the time of day. If it’s the morning I enjoy having a cup of coffee and writing. Music always has to be playing. No matter what I’m writing, an essay, something for me, editing, music helps me focus. I get very distracted otherwise.

Then it depends on what I’m writing. If I’m writing poetry, I have to start on a typewriter and finish on a computer. The typewriter is one of those things that feels organic. And I just like the clonk of the typewriter. I can’t type using home row because you have to hit the keys so hard, so I have to type with one finger [at a time]; the whole process slows me down. Then, I don’t have the backspace, so it makes me think about what I’m writing.

With the computer, I’m forced to go back to [what I wrote] because in order to document it or submit it I have to type it out on the computer. So it’s a very raw form to get it down, and then I take a second look at it.

ZJ: What brought you to edit for SIFC?

RF: Well, I did an internship at G. R. N’Namdi Gallery. That really opened my eyes to the art world. Unfortunately where I’m from, [rural Connecticut] my world really hadn’t been opened to art until I came to Chicago. In my high school, there were very few art classes, and very few people took them. No one really cared about art. So then I came here and started becoming more interested in it. Then I interned at G. R. N’Namdi because I had an interest in the creative process.

So, that gallery really opened me up to the art world, and I really enjoyed what Sixty was doing here and the way it was run. I love what you guys are doing, archiving the underground scene. To me, [that work] is the true appreciation of art. I feel like in galleries that appreciation can get muddled with money.

I do have the privilege of being an editor, so I read so many of the articles and get to read about new artists and new events. It’s really a perfect fit for me in every way.

ZJ: Lastly, what is the most visual striking thing you’ve ever seen?

RF: I moved here for school, and then I went back home for winter vacation. When I returned to school I took a train from Connecticut to Chicago. It was a twenty-four hour train ride; I thoroughly enjoyed it. I woke up when we were coming through Indiana. It was dawn, and there was still snow covering the fields. As the sun came up, it created this almost blood red sunrise. It nearly turned all the snow red, then slowly transformed into orange and then yellow. Being alone on a twenty-four hour train ride and then waking up to that — it was one of the most naturally striking things. It was something I’ll always remember.

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