Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Even the best need help

  • Michelle Pauli interviews Uzodinma Iweala in The Guardian.
When I first read Beasts of No Nation, I had a feeling Iweala was either a) a prodigy or b) blessed with a lot of smart mentors. Looks like it may be the latter, after all -- not that that changes anything.
Initially the tale was Iweala's senior thesis for his English literature degree at Harvard - in contrast to most of the writers on the American Granta list, he did not attend a creative writing course. Ian Jack, editor of Granta, observed on the publication of the list that writing fiction is "increasingly seen as a career choice by Americans in their early 20s, who attend universities to learn it". It's a notion that Iweala dismisses, saying that writing for him is a calling and a "career choice" would be something entirely different.

"I fundamentally believe that no one can teach you how to write - finding out how to write a story is part of the process of creating a story - but you can really learn through exposure to different writing, to different art forms, to different modes of storytelling, and with mentors who are able to get you to step outside your comfort zone."

One mentor who gets particular mention is Jamaica Kincaid, his senior thesis adviser who helped to edit Beasts of No Nation into publishable shape.

"She was always saying, read, read, read, read, read and she would recommend books that I thought had nothing to do with what I was writing. But I think the lesson there was that it's through reading and exposure that you really begin to understand what writing is and how to write."

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