You never really know when you might run into Wayne Alan Brenner. My favorite surprise run-in was on the rooftop of The Contemporary Austin. There was a table and four chairs at the top of the rooftop tower and we all sat down: Brenner, his wife Katherine Kiger, my partner Brian Willey, and I. An impromptu private drinking date on the top of the newly renovated museum. We talked about life and obsequious servers at restaurants while the summer sun sank down and the sky turned those gorgeous hues.
Brenner and Kiger had a way of pronouncing each delightful syllable of obsequious that showed how much they enjoyed the word and each syllable. A tell of their occupations: Brenner, a writer, and Kiger, a copy editor. And over the last 15 years, Brenner has written hundreds of words for the Austin Chronicle as editor of listings and frequent arts reviewer.
On December 1, he will celebrate another anniversary—27 years in Austin. Before Austin he lived in Florida and before that he spent some of his childhood in Liberia. His family stayed in Liberia until he was 10, leaving when unrest in the country became violent.
“My father was a diesel mechanic and figured he could make more money working overseas,” says Brenner. “Also, it was the sixties—all that peace and love and social-revolutionary stuff was happening in the States—and I reckon he wanted to get as far away from it as possible.”
“millberg and the troglogyte,” by Brenner
Brenner had an unscripted sort of life. College wasn’t a given and zines were a must.
“I joined the Air Force right out of high school, because I had no idea what else to do with myself employment wise,” says Brenner. “And the USAF is the easiest of the services to deal with, supposedly, so that’s where I went. And several months later I was booted out, albeit with an Honorable Discharge, due to what they call Inability to Adapt to a Military Way of Life. Unquote.”
He also keeps…interesting…pets. Not insects, but another kind of crawler.
“What I have are ARACHNID pets,” Brenner corrects me. “I’ve got a black emperor scorpion, a Chilean rosehair tarantula, and a vinegaroon. I like big bugs and I cannot lie.”
Brenner’s move to Austin was precipitated by a need to leave Florida and while many factors may have led to this, the juiciest was a fiery end to his relationship with Kiger who would, years later, become Brenner’s second wife.
“What brought me to Austin, specifically, was all the good things I’d heard about it from a friend of mine. ‘It reminds me of cities in Europe,’ he’d said, back when Les Amis was still around, back before Daniel Johnston handed out his first cassette tapes,” says Brenner. “Also, there was a guy in Austin who I knew through the old Factsheet Five underground media network: a man named Glen Cox, who said I could crash at his place until I scored an apartment.”
You won’t find Brenner at every art opening and, though many may know him by his devotional listings and support of the new galleries, at the end of the day Brenner is a writer.
“I’m working on a literary trilogy: three novels about a private investigator named Tannhauser Day who lives in a city called Hawkton, up there near Indiana and Pennsylvania. I figured this writing project was the next sensible step—ha!—after having ditched my second, more problematic, novel when I was halfway through the writing of it. My first novel I finished years ago: it was, at the end, rather a piece of shit and I never tried to get it published.”
Brenner fights the same fight as all writers and artists. The struggle to pay rent and the struggle to make work that makes sense of the world. The exceptional struggle of holding yourself accountable in life and supporting others in their same pursuit. Behind his positivity and warmth, Brenner has an unyielding drive to write and produce work.
“I don’t have anything to say to people of any age who ‘aspire’ to do something,” says Brenner. “They’re either going to do it or not. If they’re having doubts about whether they should continue, then my advice is for them to stop. Because if they listen to that advice, fuck ’em, they didn’t want it badly enough to begin with and there are plenty who do.”
Thao Votang is co-editor of Conflict of Interest. Votang is the Director of Communications at the Department of Art and Art History at UT Austin, which houses the Visual Arts Center, and co-founder of Tiny Park.