Writer Nick Flynn on ‘Being Flynn’


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Nick Flynn has lived an odd life. Meeting his estranged father for the first time in his twenties, Flynn found himself face-to-face with a man who believed he was one of the greatest writers who ever lived. He wasn’t -- Jonathan Flynn was mainly a drifter with delusions of grandeur. But he clearly carried something in his genes. The younger Flynn would evolve into a poet, and would also draw on his experiences with his father to write an acclaimed memoir, “Another ... Night in Suck City,” that bore out some of his father’s bold claims.

Flynn doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects such as homelessness and alcoholism in describing his tentative steps toward reconciliation with his father. Heavy on both poetic language and fragmented rumination, the book wasn’t an easy read. But it became a cult hit with the book-buying public when it was published in 2004, also winning the PEN/Martha Albrand Award.


A different audience will get to live Flynn’s story starting this weekend, when a movie based on “City” -- titled “Being Flynn” and starring Robert De Niro as Jonathan and Paul Dano as Nick -- opens in theaters.

Flynn spent every day of the New York shoot on set, guiding its director. Before the shoot began, he said, he imagined that the experience of watching an actor reenact his life could get surreal.

“I was trying to get a frame of reference,” he said. ‘So I called my friend Tony Swofford [the “Jarhead’ author who also saw a movie made of his book] and he told me that even writing the memoir is turning yourself into the character -- it’s not my life but the memory of my life.” Flynn said. “So really this was all something I had done before.”

Flynn, who is married to the actress Lili Taylor, mainly spends these days teaching writing at the University of Houston and working on his poetry in New York. One collection, ‘Some Ether,’ was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. (He also wrote a second memoir, this time interspersing his own experiences with thoughts about military torture.) ‘The attention one gets from being a poet isn’t great,’ Flynn said. ‘So when I started getting attention on [‘City’] it was a little difficult. My wife had to point out that none of it is real. They’ll soon move on to something else.’

Not everyone moved on, however. As the film project progressed, Flynn learned that Dano would be playing the Nick Flynn character. The author decided to go to his local Brooklyn bookstore to buy a copy for Dano, whom he would soon be meeting. As it turned out, the owner told him that Dano shopped at the store too, and that the lone copy on hand had been set aside for the actor.

‘So I decided to write an inscription,’ Flynn recalled. ‘I wrote ‘I am you and you are me,’ and left the store. And then right after I wondered if he might find it creepy. What did that mean? And how would I know this was his book? But I went with it,” Flynn said. “I hope he didn’t think I was too much of a lunatic.’


Bringing ‘Being Flynn’ to screens

Book review: Nick Flynn’s ‘The Ticking Is the Bomb’

The nature of poetry with Nick Flynn, Matthew Zapruder and David St. John

-- Steven Zeitchik