Howard Junker was born in Port Washington, NY, the town called East Egg in The Great Gatsby. He grew up in Chappaqua, NY, across the valley from Reader’s Digest. He was educated at Horace Greeley, Canterbury, Amherst, Stanford, and the University of San Francisco. He served in the Naval Air Reserve as an antisubmarine warfare technician, doing his six months of active duty in Memphis, TN. He has written for many magazines, including Architectural Digest, Art in America, Artforum, Esquire, Film Comment, Film Quarterly, Harper’s Bazaar, The Nation, The New Republic, New York, Newsweek, Playboy, Rolling Stone,The Village Voice, and Vogue. He has also worked as a documentary filmmaker, a television producer, a construction carpenter, a junior high school science teacher, a fondue cook, a P.R. flack, and a technical editor. He founded ZYZZYVA, a journal of West Coast writers and artists, in 1985, and edited 90 issues before he retired at the end of 2010. He published Kay Ryan in the second issue; Sherman Alexie while still an undergraduate; and gave Haruki Murakami his first appearance in English. He discovered F.X. Toole, whose stories inspired Million Dollar Baby, and Jill Soloway, who created Transparent. He also edited five anthologies of work from ZYZZYVA, as well as four first novels and three first collections of poems. He teaches metamemoir at the Fromm Institue at the University of San Francisco.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I’m always tempted to say I’m a writer. That seems fraudulent, however, although I published my first story when I was 8.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
Life is a struggle. Sisyphus was being punished, but that’s what life is like: you roll it up the hill, it rolls back down. Then you roll it up again. If you’re lucky, you get to do it some more.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Get a second opinion.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
No. Considering my modest talent, I’ve been very lucky, but mostly I try not to think about all the opportunities I’ve flubbed.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
The guy signing “The Man I Love” to a Sophie Tucker recording in a Pina Bausch dance:
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
My great-grandfather was a young German reporter-illustrator who hung out with Sitting Bull on the reservation in 1882.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
My father. Him.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
I used to want to go see Hadrian’s Wall, so I could imagine what it was like to look out at the barbarians. Now I realize, I am a barbarian, looking in.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
No. I don’t tease.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
What’s wrong with society today?
Not even deb parties.
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
I take this pill for allergies and it actually works. It’s great.
What is your fondest memory?
Being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
Once or twice a lifetime is enough for me.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
Peace in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The end of slavery everywhere. Human rights for women, children, and Others.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
I don’t know what art is, but I know it’s unnecessary. It’s too rare and wonderful to be a necessity.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
I’m into consensual. Vanilla, of course, but Sea Salted Caramel and Secret Breakfast are also good.
What are you working on right now?
A sequel to A Total Junker; it’s about death and dying.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I’d like be to a cyberhacker.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
I would make Oakland a little closer to The City.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
A matinee at the Kabuki is about all the excitement I can handle. If I’ve had an afternoon nap, however, I might try an early bird (or senior special) at a fine dining establishment.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
In the Prado, I saw a dwarf looking at the dwarfs painted by Velasquez.
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
Bust a few rimes; update my wardrobe at Goodwill.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Chanel No. 5. Spaghetti alle vongole; New leather upholstery
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
The Fountain of Youth.