We asked 2023 Texas Book Festival Author Greg Marshall a few questions about himself and his featured Festival title Leg: The Story of a Limb and the Boy Who Grew From It.
TBF: Why did you write your featured book? (What was your inspiration? Where did the idea start?)
GM: “I graduated from UT’s Michener Center for Writers in 2013 with a degree in fiction. I’d had a stellar time and worked with teachers and fellows I adore to this day, but I was feeling burned out. I needed a little elbow room, a way to make my writing feel like mine again. After three years of reading and studying with literary heavyweights, I wanted to be silly and have fun. I mean, it was summertime in Austin! How do you not want that?
For me, coming-of-age stories have always had an intoxicating, sun-drenched energy. There’s nostalgia in these tales of woe, sure, but there’s also sexual awakening and a hint of foreboding and body hair. It’s a time when you swim more than shower, when sunscreen is your main deodorant, when you hang out with your best friend for three days straight and only separate because of sleep deprivation. And yet, in this time-honored genre, it seemed to me that there weren’t all that many gay kids, and there were almost no disabled kids and I was both. I was missing from my favorite genre! This was an extremely exciting moment because I knew, in my own small way, I could be my own genre.
I’d had a bunch of colorful experiences as a kid that I wanted to capture on the page, so that’s where I started. I wrote about being on Accutane for my zits and about using my mom’s Brookstone back massage to discover my body, about taking a middle-school trip to France with my dad where I worried the entire time that he’d out me, and about meeting Margaret Pellegrini, the actor who played a Sleepyhead munchkin in the 1939 Wizard of Oz film.
I walk with a limp because of cerebral palsy and I found that the more I wrote about my early years, the more I kept returning to my leg. And once I had my leg, the one I recognized from my life, the rest of me started showing up on the page, too. My stories grew up with me until I wasn’t a kid in them anymore. I was a teenager and then a twenty- and thirty something working as a journalist and taking care of my terminally ill parents and falling for the wrong men and I was still figuring life out, still coming of age, still in a swimsuit any chance I got.”
TBF: What is the last book you read, loved, and can’t stop recommending? What did you love about it?
GM: “Parini Shroff’s The Bandit Queens is a comedic tour-de-force that took me to a part of the world I’d never visited, rural India, and delivered an up-all-night, laugh-out-loud, good old-fashioned page-turner. I give the book five murderous widows out of five.”
TBF: What’s the first book you remember reading and who gave it to you? What inspired your love of reading / writing?
GM: “The Wartville Wizard by Don Madden is a picture book about an anti-litter crusader who develops the ability to make trash stick to whomever tossed it in the first place. I could tell you that I was a precocious little environmentalist but the truth is the book had me at wizard. I was a sucker for any Merlin-esque daddy with magical powers. I even loved Merlin’s vacation look at the end of The Sword in the Stone. Once I was a little older, third and fourth grade, I gave up older men for superheroes and primarily read X-Men and Superman comics. If I had any ability to draw, I’d probably have tried to do that. The verdict from an adult drawing class at Laguna Gloria pre-pandemic was merciless and conclusive. I’m sticking with words.”
Greg Marshall was raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. A National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Prose, Marshall is a graduate of the Michener Center for Writers. His work has appeared in The Best American Essays and has been supported by MacDowell and the Corporation of Yaddo. Leg is his first book. You can see Marshall at the 2023 Texas Book Festival this November 11–12!