March 11th, 2011 / 7:15 pm

Interview Roundup Part Five: Szymborska, Beah, Beattie, Derby, Cicero

“I don’t believe I have a mission. Sometimes I really have a spiritual need to say something more general about the world, and sometimes something personal. I usually write for the individual reader–though I would like to have many such readers. There are some poets who write for people assembled in big rooms, so they can live through something collectively. I prefer my reader to take my poem and have a one-on-one relationship with it.” – Wislawa Szymborska, in the LA Times

“Recently I was giving a talk, and someone asked if I would ever write a romance novel. It was a funny question. But then I thought, well, okay, maybe. I come from a different culture and it could work to my advantage or disadvantage. What I consider romantic may not necessarily be what other people consider romantic. I’ve lived in this culture long enough to test some of the hypotheses of what romance is to me on a few people, and it hasn’t worked out quite that well [laughs]. For example, in the context of Sierra Leone, romance could mean a woman cooking for a man and sending a dish to the man’s house as a sign of showing that she cares and that she loves the man. Whereas in the West if you ask some women to cook for you, they may think otherwise—they may think you see them as belonging to the kitchen and that sort of thing.” – Ishmael Beah, in FSG Work in Progress

“If I can see the landscape, I can put people in the world of the story. It’s very visual, even if it might not register that way with the reader (“Carleyville left late because of the rain.”) I have every texture and tone I need there-In the character’s name, in the alliteration of “left late”, and the rain . . . suddenly a very specific rain, for my story alone! Really, it was more than enough to begin. Yeah, I watch surfaces. In our house in Virginia, my husband hung a relief he’d carved on the living room wall (he is perverse: the room is charcoal grey; his relief of two intertwined figures is verdigris), and at a certain time of day, just for a matter of minutes, a shadow is cast and the peacock feathers (homage to Flannery O’Connor) in the vase above the bookcase make a strange foliage shadow that seems to suspend the real and reflected figures in a forest – but all the while, you know you’re looking at quickly changing shadows and reflections, as well as the original object.” – Ann Beattie in Folio

“i don’t think that the internet has changed the way i write, necessarily, but it certainly has opened up a new set of possibilities for myself and other writers in terms of finding an audience, and i think that has had a pretty profound impact. when i started writing, there were very few feasible options in terms of publishing work, and even then, the feasibility was questionable. there was also a predictability – i wasn’t aware, then, of journals like conjunctions or grand street, and everything else was just too…agrarian. every lit journal i was exposed to was named after a tree, or an antique milliner’s tool, or something having to do with the ocean.” – Matthew Derby, in Identity Theory

“I found out it is hard to talk seriously about anything to the media. Recently they filmed The Human War to be made into a movie. The movie will be out next year sometime, I don’t know when or where it will appear. I had several interviews with major media outlets, like newspapers, college newspapers, and the local news. I got asked for simple, little questions that meant nothing. At one point during the filming, one of the directors asked me to talk to an actor about a character, I mentioned Plato and everyone got weirded out. It is strange, society wants authors, authors who know things, society might even want philosophers, not sure. But they don’t want us to know things in public in front of everyone. This is probably what many conservatives dislike, that there are people in society that know things. Most people are scared of people who know things and are also scared of those things they know. I probably wouldn’t mention Sartre or Nietzsche or Richard Wright, I wouldn’t mention anything. I would say, “ROAD TRIP NOVEL” “MICHAEL CERA” “CHINESE” “LOOKING FOR ONE SELF.” They would be attracted to those words. I would be saying those words and phrases, thinking in my head, “These words mean nothing.” But they wouldn’t, those words would mean a million wonderful money making things.” – Noah Cicero, in Bookslut


  1. Frank Tas

      “Chuck Klosterman” “Food Network” “Best Coast” “Austin” “Tapas” “Bitters” “Pale Ale”

  2. kelly huckaby

      i really liked that interview with noah cicero, it felt like i was reading a very addictive book and i felt upset when it ended.

  3. alexisorgera

      I really like that excerpt from the Cicero interview. I was sitting out in my front yard today thinking about how my librarian friend got a birthday cake with the Rolling Stone cover of Snookie scanned onto it (printed out on edible surgar!!). Aside from the awesomeness of this cake, I was thinking about our societal obsession with stupid. We can reify, and glorify, people who don’t use their brains because–as is the case with racism and sexism, perhaps–we need someone to act as the physical manifestation of OTHER. As long as Snookie is somehow dumb, and we’re labeling and loving her as such, we don’t have to be. When people are confronted with smart, real smarts, they/we have to confront our own insecurities about our brainpower. ?? I’m just spit balling here…

  4. alexisorgera

      ps–GREAT SERIES.

  5. Susana645

      Thank you for this. Needed chuckles. Especially from reading Matthew Derby, Noah Cicero, Ishmael Beah. Now, I need to find their books. Thank God for libraries, the ultimate low-risk proposition for an obsessive reader.

      Susan D. Anderson
      The Obsessive Reader

  6. Anonymous

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