MARY GAITSKILL + GREIL MARCUS: in conversation at The Headlands

MARY GAITSKILL + GREIL MARCUS: in conversation at The Headlands

Summer and fall walked into a campus of artist-renovated military buildings to read from their latest works and to talk about the weather. One of the seasons, Mary Gaitskill of New York, is spending time at the Headlands Center for the Arts to work on a book called The End of Seasons.

“The weather as people — winter, spring, and summer are personified — that was the image that got me going with it, and I still don’t quite understand it or if it even works,” Gaitskill said by phone. She began the book more than six years ago, but got “sidetracked” by the image of a girl and a horse that eventually became The Mare, a novel due out in November.

Gaitskill often puts work aside before it’s finished. She started her novel Veronica — a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, set in Marin County — in 1994, and didn’t pick it back up until 2001. It was published in 2005. Including her acclaimed 1988 debut, Bad Behavior, Gaitskill has authored three story collections and three novels. The former Larkspur resident has just arrived at the Center for the Arts for the first time, to revisit The End of Seasons.

“I just wanted to return to Marin,” she said. “It’s true that your environment influences how you write. But it’s not the only determination. … I haven’t been back to that novel (The End of Seasons) for a long time, and I want to look at it and see what I think of it again. So that actually requires a little bit of a neutral space.”

Gaitskill is participating in the Artist in Residence program, which offers fully sponsored four- to 10-week residencies to about 45 artists every year.

Reading with Gaitskill is cultural critic Greil Marcus, who has two books coming out this fall. He said by phone that he plans to read from one of those — Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations from Harvard University Press and based on three lectures he gave there in 2013 — specifically from a section based on the life of Geeshie Wiley.

“Up until really just last year,” he said, when journalist John Jeremiah Sullivan reconstructed Wiley’s life through about 1930, “nothing was known about her at all, nobody knew what her real name was, when she was born, where she’s from. She made this record and a few others and completely disappeared, and there was just no trace of her before or after.” In the chapter on her music, Marcus ponders the seeming anonymous nature of her song “Last Kind Word Blues” — as though it were written by the wind — and imagines her life post-disappearance.

If You Go

Mary Gaitskill and Greil Marcus: 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9. $35. Headlands Center for the Arts, Building 944, 944 Simmonds Rd., Sausalito. (415) 374-7048

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.