Reif Larsen

Photo: Jake Chessum

When I was in second grade, I would write these crazy stories about Egyptians who came from outer space and built new colonies. I would illustrate them, too. I went to one of these progressive schools where they didn’t really correct your spelling. I spelled yellow with three l’s well into fifth or sixth grade because they kept saying, “That’s great. That’s even more yellow than yellow.”

This book is about T.S., a son of a cowboy, who is 12 and obsessed with drawing everything. My next book is a Balkans-Congo international mystery. People ask if it’s going to be illustrated, too, and I say, No. I’m not going to be that guy who writes illustrated novels.

I am going to be a teacher for the rest of my life. I know this. I took time off from college to teach creative writing in Botswana, where I met these ten students playing the marimba, which is a big xylophone with a strange, pentatonic scale. When I got back to the States I produced a tour for them—we went up and down the East Coast, ten African students kicking ass on the marimbas. We planned an even bigger event here this year, and then they called me from the Johannesburg airport: “They won’t let us check the marimbas. Can you wrangle up ten Zimbabwean marimbas by tomorrow?” I was just like, “Fuck.”

So I got on NY1 and made a plea, and lo and behold, someone actually had a Zimbabwean marimba in their garage. I love that someone in Queens was like, “Honey, can you look in the garage? Do we still have that Zimbabwean marimba?”

As told to Justin Ocean

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet will be published by Penguin May 5.

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Reif Larsen