On Being a Writer

Why do you write?

 —Sigrid Nunez, New York City

Sigrid, there are so many ways I can answer this question, and perhaps that initial sense of where do I even start? may be what you’re after, given your interest in writers’ responses to this question and in the way, as you’ve said, “language reflects how we think and feel about the world.” I want to go back to the beginnings on this, to a child whose sense of self was interwoven with books and their function as a passport to life. Read more…

In 1998 you won a literary fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. What impact did that grant have on your writing?

—Dana Gioia, Los Angeles, California

I have to say this question brings back very sweet memories. Cliff Becker, who was then in charge of NEA fellowships, called me on a late winter afternoon with the news that I was one of that year’s winners. Read more…

Besides how to write fiction, what have you learned about life or yourself by writing fiction?

—Josh Marshall, New York City

This may sound a little aphoristic, Josh, but here you go: for me, writing fiction is using language as the prism for studying life. Read more…

I think writing takes a huge amount of self confidence. I know how uncertain I felt when I started in politics after I had announced I was running and was raising money. I think writing takes even more of a drive, because it must be such a lonely effort. Es verdad?

—David Bartlett, Tucson, Arizona

Actually, David, I think it’s probably not an accident there aren’t a lot of writers in politics. Read more…

Could you talk a little about the experience of doing such extensive research for Suite Harmonic? Did it have an impact on you as a writer beyond providing the information you needed?

—Janet Holmes, Boise, Idaho

I’ve actually been thinking about that experience quite a lot lately, Janet. That may partly be due to my seeing that long list of acknowledgments in print in Suite Harmonic and remembering what a big, multi-faceted project the research was. Read more…

How have your friendships with other writers or being a part of a community of writers informed your work?

Stuart Krahn, Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota

I realized in thinking about this question that I have to divide my writing life into stages to answer it with any accuracy. I will. Most of us make our first efforts at writing in the competitive world of elementary school. Read more…

Many of your stories and novels have dealt with the theme of relationships between the generations and how these relationships evolve, what we do or do not inherit from our ancestors, how timing and circumstances affect our generational relationships.  In the course of exploring this theme, have your own ideas about generational relationships evolved?

—Martha Douglas, St. Paul, Minnesota

I’ve been circling this question for a while, Martha, deciding where to land. I think the answer is to start with Time Stamp. Read more…

As a professor of literature I often ask my students to consider the distinctions and similarities between fiction and non-fiction. As the author of work that uses elements of both, what do you find to be most enjoyable—the research and discovery of historical information, or the imaginative construction of a narrative that develops from those discoveries?

—Michael Given, Nacogdoches, Texas

That’s an interesting turn in that question, Michael. First and foremost, I’m a writer, so I’ll say the feeling I’ve drawn an evocative picture Read more…

My first thought is how on earth did you do all this? But my real question comes from my most valued lifetime friendship: did your mother play a role in your becoming a writer?

—Mildred James, Crawfordsville, Indiana

I laughed when I read the first part of your question, Aunt Mildred (and you long ago earned that title by being such a good friend), but it also made me feel pleased. Having started writing at a time that writers like Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, and John Gardner were producing extraordinary amounts of work, Read more…

As a writer, has any personal sense of vulnerability or mortality affected what you write, how you write, or even how you present your work to the world?

—Richard Solly, St. Paul, Minnesota

Richard, light question that this isn’t, I feel it’s worth addressing even though it’s far from my favorite line of thought. Read more…

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