On “Meting Out Intimacy:” A Conversation with Lucas Mann

Interview conducted by: Ruby Al-Qasem

In Lucas Mann’s newest book, Captive Audience: On Love and Reality TV (2018), he writes, “Lately I can’t stand a narrator who isn’t confessing to something. I think that if it doesn’t feel, even just for a moment, like a secret joy or burden to unload, then why say it?” I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Mann to discuss Captive Audience, the convergence (or contradiction) of vulnerability and artistry in the creative nonfiction genre, and what it means to be a writer and teacher in a time when performance and reality can sometimes seem indistinct.

As any reader of Mann’s books would expect, he’s thoughtful, whip-smart, open, and empathetic. We chatted for about half an hour, and although this interview has been edited for clarity and length, I’ve tried to honor his voice, and the intimacy he offered me.

Ruby Al-Qasem: I was reading your Chicago Review of Books interview with Pierce Smith, and you mentioned an “economy of authenticity.” In Captive Audience, you’re extending the conversation from reality TV, social media, and those kinds of performance to the attempts at authenticity and the necessary gaps in authenticity when we’re in a room with another person, even when it’s our spouse. What do you think is the effect that the reality TV phenomenon has had on creative nonfiction writing as a genre?

Lucas Mann: I do think that the book is trying to engage with parallels in conversa