Alexander Chee on Writing, Success, and Subletting Below Chloë Sevigny

Photo via Flickr

At Catapult, Alexander Chee has a self-reflective essay about a period in the early aughts when he got to sublet a friend’s plum 19th-story apartment in Gramercy Park. She let him have it for just $900 per month, a steal, which took a great deal of financial pressure off of him. This was after the release of his first novel, when his stock as a writer was rising and he was commanding a little more money–by writer standards, anyway. Bonus: Chee soon learned that actress Chloë Sevigny, of whom he was a big fan, was his upstairs neighbor. This revelation, and a few nervous encounters with her, made the author take a hard look at himself. Double bonus: He got a great chandelier out of the deal, which he has to this day.

Every day, the apartment felt like some just reward after a long period of hard work, even a sign that further success was close by. The paperback of my first novel had just come out from Picador and with that money, in addition to money from teaching, I felt rich for the first time in my life as a writer. I knew I was not rich in a way that anyone else in the building would recognize, but I was writer rich. I had money earned from writing that I would spend on more time to write, and the cheap deal on the beautiful apartment meant the money would last even longer—it even felt like the beginning of more of that money and more of that success. It was a beautiful moment, when the money and the time it represented added up to a possibility for the future that felt as vast as the edges of the known world. The apartment’s vast views resembled the way I wanted to feel about my own future each time I looked at them.

The only sign of darkness was that I was trying to begin work on my second novel and it was not going well. Each week I abandoned it by Friday and returned to it on Monday, as if it was a bad love affair. I think somehow I knew even then that the novel would take me a decade to finish. But the apartment made my despair easier to bear.

Read the story