June Sawyers is the author and editor of over 20 books, including her latest 2022 release. Bob Dylan’s New York. This is a revised version of another publisher’s 2011 first edition because there have been so many new things to note about Dylan. Sawyers writes frequently about music and the arts, and she contributes regularly to the Chicago Grandstand.
Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, Sawyers resides in Chicago. She has written many books on musical subjects including Celtic music which speaks to her roots and still remains an influence in her life and art, on the works of Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles and of course Bob Dylan .
June Sawyers has always been an admirer of Dylan’s work and finds relatability in his storytelling and style. She captured how New York itself helped shape an American icon, and she explores the people and places that were part of Dylan’s life-changing journey.
June talked more about her recent release, her career as an author, and her artistic influences over the years.
Congratulations on your latest book, a revised edition of Bob Dylan’s New York! Can you tell us more about it and where did you get the inspiration to write this particular story?
JS: Well, I’ve admired Bob Dylan’s work – his lyricism, his storytelling – for years. The first edition was published by an independent house in Berkeley as part of their MusicPlace series. Given Dylan’s strong association with New York and Greenwich Village in particular, it made sense to me to see if editors might be interested in including him in the series. They did it. This is a revised and updated edition because a lot has happened since the original book was first published a decade ago, including Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Then he surprised everyone and released his latest record, Rough and rowdy ways, at the height of the pandemic. He is unpredictable.
You also gave lessons on Bob Dylan and the American song tradition. What attracts you to Dylan and what do you think people can learn from him?
JS: I guess what appeals to me most about his music is his love of traditional ballads, especially traditional ballads from Scotland and England. Being from Scotland myself, that specific connection made me see Dylan in a way that maybe other people might not have thought of. But then he went a step further, creating his own canon of songs that defy categorization but have also stood the test of time.
What do you think is the key message or theme of Bob Dylan’s New York?
JS: Be true to yourself. It’s what Dylan has been doing for decades. It seems to have served him well. The irony is, of course, that Dylan has always been a shapeshifter. Who is Bob Dylan? Who is Robert Zimmerman, the boy from the Midwest who went to New York and became one of the most famous and acclaimed musicians of our time? No one really knows, but part of the fun of writing this book was discovering its many facets. There are many.
For those unfamiliar with your books, what would you say is most important to know about your work?
JS: I have eclectic interests. My books reflect these interests. But my main interests are Scotland and music (Dylan, Springsteen, Beatles, Celtic music).
When did you know you wanted to be an author? And what specifically attracted you to the musical themes?
JS: I’ve always loved newspapers, so I guess reading newspapers daily helped feed my habit, which led me to start writing for several local newspapers. Basically, one thing led to another: a historical section in the Chicago Grandstand led to my first book deal, which led to other book deals.
I also liked music, especially popular music. I took a few music lessons—guitar, recorder—but realized, to my chagrin, that I had no talent for playing an instrument. Luckily, I was able to turn my interest into writing about music.
You have written or edited more than 20 books. Does it ever get easier? Is each release different or surprising in some way?
JS: No, sorry to say, it never gets easier. Each book is different in its own way, with different shades of difficulty. Lately, however, I find that I much prefer to write shorter books!
How has your writing style evolved over time? Has your writing changed as your experiences and the world around you have changed?
JS: I would like to say that my writing has improved but I will leave that to other people to decide. I mainly write about what interests me.
What is your process? Do you have a set writing schedule each day?
JS: I don’t have a fixed writing schedule since I do a lot of things, not just write.
How do you define success as a writer?
JS: To write about what interests you.
Are there any authors, songwriters or other creators who have significantly influenced you?
JS: There are many writers who have influenced me or at least had an impact on the way I write. Most of them are travel writers, music authors and essayists. They include Gretel Ehrlich, Sara Wheeler, Rebecca Solnit, Elijah Wald and Daniel Wolff. I especially like musical memoirs like Patti Smith’s M-train and Dana Jennings’ Sing Me Home: Love, Death, and Country Music. Besides, I love memoirs in general: I just finished reading Sarah Smarsh Heartland: A memoir of hard work and being broke in the world’s richest countryreleased a few years ago.
I also enjoy reading short story writers, especially James Joyce (Dubliners), Alistair Macleod, Alice Munro and William Trevor. As far as contemporary fiction writers go, I admire Douglas Stuart’s novels, especially his just-released second novel, Young Mungo.
What do you think is the hardest thing about writing? What is the simplest?
JS: The hardest thing for me is getting started: a blank page or blank screen can be terrifying. This can often lead to a writer’s greatest enemy: procrastination.
The easiest thing is to come up with ideas because I love making lists. I also feel a sense of relief and satisfaction after completing everything I’ve been working on. I like to have done something.
Do you have any advice for budding writers?
JS: Be persistent. Do not abandon. Do it because you have to.
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