The National Book Foundation’s 2013 Class of 5 Under 35 Writers on Process, Progress, and Publishing a First Novel
Tonight we are very excited to celebrate our 5 Under 35 authors at powerHouse Arena in Dumbo. Earlier this month, novelist Claire Vaye Watkins interviewed the writers, who were each selected by a past National Book Award Winner or Finalist. Below, a sample of the writers’ responses.
Amanda Coplin, The Orchardist
Selected by Louise Erdrich, 2012 National Book Award Winner
Q: This year’s 5 Under 35 list is composed entirely of women. Care to share your thoughts on how gender affects a writer’s encounters with the literary world?
A: Gender affects a writer’s encounters with the literary world this way: if you are a woman, you are asked to comment on your gender and how it relates to your art, and if you are a man, you are not.
Your gender has nothing to do with how well you can write, of course. But since men were considered superior beings for so long, their work was correspondingly held in higher esteem. Now that we are slowly coming around to the realization that women are just as capable as men, our work is being recognized and honored too. The only added challenge we have as women, perhaps, is that our work has to overcome those residual prejudices (or not so residual in some) that women are second-class artists. In many cases women’s art has to be that much better than men’s art to be considered equal.
I don’t want to put a damper on the fact that an all-woman list should be celebrated—I have to admit I was excited when I found out all the honorees were women—but I’m also tired of the fact that this is considered exceptional. For Amanda’s full interview, click here.
Molly Antopol, The UnAmericans
Selected by Jesmyn Ward, 2011 National Book Award Winner
Q: Can you tell me your book’s artistic origin story?
A: My stories move from McCarthy-era Los Angeles to modern-day Jerusalem to communist Prague. Many were inspired by my family history, notably their involvement in the Communist Party. I come from a big family of storytellers, and I grew up surrounded by tales of surveillance, tapped lines and dinnertime visits from the FBI. Those things—combined with my very nerdy love of research—informed my McCarthy-era stories.
It’s interesting—though my family loves to tell stories, the one place I never got to hear about was Antopol, the Belarusian village where my relatives came from, which was virtually destroyed during World War II. A little more that a decade ago I was living in Israel and wound up at a holiday party in Haifa, where I met an elderly woman from Antopol who had known my family. It was one of the most extraordinary moments of my life. She led me to an oral history book about the village, written in Hebrew, Yiddish and English, which her son had put together. The moment I finished reading it (I remember just where I was, at the kitchen table in my apartment in Tel Aviv), I began writing The UnAmericans. For Molly’s full interview, click here.
NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names
Selected by Junot Díaz, 2012 National Book Award Finalist
Q: Did you have contemporary writer role models, and where did you find these?
A: There were inspiring young writers I was aware of (Justin Torres, Tea Obreht, Alexi Zentner, Maaza Mengiste, Cathy Chung), but I wasn’t working hard to follow high profile spotlights and people’s careers and stuff. I suppose I was just concentrating on myself and work, things can be distracting. And yes, I’m always looking up to older writers, not necessarily because of their writing careers, but rather what their work means to me—Toni Morrison, Edwidge Danticat, Yvonne Vera, Colum McCann, Michael Ondaatje, Jhumpa Lahiri, Edward P. Jones, Zakes Mda to mention just a few. For NoViolet’s full interview, click here.
Merritt Tierce, Love Me Back
Selected by Ben Fountain, 2012 National Book Award Finalist
Q: How about your book’s journey to publication: What’s been the most shocking/confusing/surprising part of that process?
A: At some point in there I was really frustrated that I hadn’t managed to finish it, and said to my fiancé, I’m never going to have a book if I don’t get away from my job and our house and our three kids and you and all these pets (we have two dogs, two cats, a giant rabbit, a hedgehog, and a guinea pig). I thought I was just venting, but he secretly made arrangements for me to go away from my job, our house, our three kids, him, and all those pets. I didn’t even know where I was being shipped until he dropped me off at the airport. Five days later I came home with a new story. For Merritt’s full interview, click here.
Daisy Hildyard, Hunters in the Snow
Selected by Kevin Powers, 2012 National Book Award Finalist
Q:What makes you write?
A: I want to see what’s going on outside myself.
For Daisy’s full interview, click here.
For complete coverage of National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35, including photos of tonight’s event, click here.