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WRITERS often do their best work behind bars.
Cervantes penned most of “Don Quixote” in the pen. Dostoevsky found inspiration in incarceration.
In the tradition of those literary inmates, three novelists locked themselves in a Queens art gallery Saturday, with a self-imposed sentence of 30 days and 75,000 words – give or take a few paragraphs off for good behavior.
Grant Bailie (left), Laurie Stone and Ranbir Sidhu are part of a novel project
in which they are locked in a
Queens art gallery with a deadline.
Photo: J. Scott Wynn
Grant Bailie, Laurie Stone and Ranbir Sidhu must complete an entire novel each, while being confined to individual “habitats” – aka artsy cells – in the Flux Factory in Long Island City.
They’ll have no contact from the outside world – except gallery visitors who come to gawk at these scribes in solitary.
“We’re exploring what it is to be a writer,” says Morgan Meis, curator of the exhibit, titled “Novel.”
“On the one hand it’s an intense, solitary and personal experience,” he says. “On the other, it’s always a public expression in which the writers reveal more about themselves than they intend.”
On Saturday night, the three prisoners – chosen from 200 applicants – arrived at the writers’ cellblock with laptops and luggage. Each habitat, designed by a different architect, was intended to fit the idiosyncrasies of its occupant.
Bailie, 43, is a frequent contributor to McSweeney’s, and his first novel, “Cloud 8,” was published in 2003. He unpacked clothes, books and a Buddha statue.
With its dirt roof panels, which will soon sprout a garden, his quarters look like the shelter Frank Lloyd Wright might build were he stranded on a desert island.
“This sure beats my regular job, where I have to sneak in my writing when no one is looking,” he says. “I don’t know how interesting I am going to be to watch, though. I’m not a very good typer – I guess that could be amusing.”
The hovel-ists are fed by a retinue of rotating chefs. Each can clock out of their confines for 90 minutes a day, and they’ll be released for weekly Saturday night readings.
Stone, 58, is a longtime writer for the Village Voice. She’s often been a writer-in-residence, but this is her first time in captivity.
“I’m not too worried about the self-restriction,” she says. “With some candles and perfume, and a lot of books, I am going to make this my own little house.”
Paul Davis, one of the designers of Stone’s habitat, says after reading her work and meeting with her, he knew she needed a great deal of privacy.
“The orange entrance ramp seems like it leads to an inviting doorway,” he says. “When, in fact, visitors actually end up sliding down the other side without ever seeing Laurie.”
Sidhu, 38, a novelist and archaeologist, said it may be hard to write without his usual break – watching television makeover shows.
His cell is made from airport packing crates, with white Lucite wall panels that can be raised and lowered on pulleys.
“This is completely different from the normal way I write,” says Sidhu, who brought crossword puzzles for procrastination. “I’m not going to have much room for my usual late-night pacing around.”
Each writer has some idea of what they’ll work on during their Houdini-meets-Hemingway adventure, but hadn’t written a word before Saturday.
“I don’t think it will be a novel exactly,” Stone says. “But it will be something.”