What Are You Reading, Gregory Sale?

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Gregory Sale, who won the Mid-Career Artist Award at last year's Phoenix Art Museum Contemporary Forum, passed the baton at the 2012 awards ceremony last week with an art opening in the museum's main hall.

He describes the work as a proposal for an outreach effort aimed toward at-risk youth at Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development, helping them obtain their own court records and create poems with the documents by subtracting out the parts they don't want to define their life stories.

To prove it's possible, Sale collab'ed with Tucson-based poet TC Tolbert and installed the piece in Phoenix Art Museum. Tolbert took Sale's written proposal for the Tumbleweed project and pulled out words to create a three-poem series. Then, Sale decorated both sides of the museum walls with the select words.

Across the room, Sale displays visual art by max security inmates serving life terms in the Pennsylvania prison system, from a 2011 workshop he ran in Graterford State Prison. The artist says he will complete the project with a video installation premier at the show's June 22 grand opening.

The work is heavily researched, interactive, and unafraid of text art -- characteristic of Sale. It also got us thinking: What does this guy read?

The ASU arts professor has summer off from teaching, but says he will spend three weeks at Yaddo artist residency in upstate New York, then head to another residency this summer in Southwest Virginia, which is close enough to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, that he can commute to the city where he's participating in a group project next year. Not to mention a conference on "socially engaged art" this month in Portland.

Yet, Sale makes time to read, as he explained to Jackalope Ranch this week, as a source of inspiration, networking, and yes, even relaxation.

What are you reading? The book I'm reading now is called Social Works, and it's by an author named Shannon Jackson.

It's essentially about the dialogue of aesthetics and performative- and public-based work. And that's sort of what I do, right? It's about the field I work in, and somebody else being thoughtful about it...

Is there a lot written about how art fits into public practice? It's expanding. It's definitely 'on the grow' right now...[Social Works] is one of my summer readings, which I've started. Then there's another book, called Leaving Art: Writing on Performance, Politics & Publics by Suzanne Lacy. That's one of my, like, other five books.

This is all really dry shit, but if you're gonna have some away time, that's the best time to really jump into these books which are, for me, theoretical and content-based. I sort of feel more comfortable making it my 'quality working hours,' you know, to read. Like when I read [Michel] Foucault, or something, I have to do it in the morning! I can't read Foucault at night. [laughs] I just don't do too well.

It sounds like you gravitate more toward non-fiction, or philosophical writing, than fiction or poetry.

You asked what I'm reading right now! It's coming up on summer, [and] I'm giving myself that assignment. Like I said, I read short stories all the time, and I collect them here and there. Sometimes I read novels. But I don't give myself a job to be about that. I already have so many other jobs! [laughs] I'm working hard, right? And so, I gotta have some of it that's free time.

How do you fit reading into your life? I often read short stories before I go to bed. In part, because they have an end, and I'm less likely to stay up until four in the morning, finishing the novel.

Whether it's a short story in The New Yorker, or in some other magazine, or the "Best Of" from 2011 or whatever, I'm sort of a voracious short story reader. But I don't do as much on tracking. That's just my free time reading. Meaning, I don't ask, "Who's that author? What's the next thing they wrote? What's the last thing they wrote?" I just read. That's my gift to myself.

I spend a lot of time thinking, and sometimes, something will come to me right away. But other times, I'm just creatively problem solving, and in that kind of space, reading is really helpful.

Any formative book you read as a teen or young adult that put you on the path toward public art? I particularly enjoyed this book when I was in high school [age 16], by Breece D'J Pancake. He was a fiction writer from West Virginia. What sort of blew me away was that he wrote about Appalachia. I grew up in Virginia, and my uncle had a cabin up [in the state's North].

Anyway, he [Pancake] traveled all through Appalachia and got all these stories. The people, and the mountain folk, and I knew them. I knew them at some level. And he was one of those peculiar, weird writers.

I also really appreciated Les Enfants Terribles [by Jean Cocteau], because I was a foreign language student and an exchange student.

Maybe those two books would be fun: Les Enfants Terribles, and The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake.

But this is stupid. I feel like such a snot! And I'm not a snot!

What three books should be required reading? No comment. No comment. Oh, my God. The notion of requirement.

...three books you think everyone could learn from? Oh, gosh. I really couldn't answer that, because everyone is so individual. Some people don't connect to the world at all through writing and reading. I'm not about imposing that, you know?

I know you didn't ask it in that tone, but, it's just really hard for me to answer. I see people as so individual, and have so many different foundations and formations, that it's a hard question. It's too hard for me. I'm a thinker, so I'd have to think about it. I don't spout that shit off, or whatever.

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