Novelist and essayist Rachel Kushner spoke to James Wood, New Yorker literary critic and Harvard professor of the practice of literary criticism, on Tuesday about the “feel and emotion” of her creative work in an online publication. Writers speak event sponsored by the Mahindra Humanities Center event.
Kicking off the 75-minute discussion, Wood asked the author about the connection and differences between writing fiction – Kushner’s novels include bestselling “The Mars Room” and “The Flamethrowers” – and the composition of ‘tests.
âWhat’s different between the two is that I know that testing is possible,â Kushner replied. âIf I am diligent and I work, I can take on a mission and I can make a difference. The fiction is much more rudimentary.
On the topic of non-fiction, she recalled the coin-collecting process for her first essay book, “The Hard Crowd,” which came out in April.
âI really felt like I needed a specific line,â she said, âjust a mood or a vibe, so that a reader could pick up the book and feel like he had took a trip. ” By bringing together essays on subjects as disparate as writer Marguerite Duras and the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, she found this theme. “The essays reflect a certain disposition which can be quite deep in who I am.” The result, she explained, was not that different from her fiction. “By the time I finished compiling the book, I was surprised that these essays had as much to do with me as a writer as my novels.”
Following on from Duras, best known for her 1984 novel “The Lover,” and Denis Johnson, another author discussed in “The Hard Crowd,” Wood asked Kushner about influences. She brought up Nelson Algren and “Blood Meridian” author Cormac McCarthy, whose 1985 classic “made a huge impression on me.”
Another powerful influence was artists from other media. âI like to look at stuff – go to galleries and museums and see what people are doing. I’m interested in how artists use their art, âshe said. Recalling a trip to Paris, she described her visit to Orangery and ‘watching Monet’s water lilies for three hours. These kinds of experiences are really precious to me.
âMusic is an interesting analogy for writing,â she said. Kushner explained how his 14-year-old son, a classical musician, only recently discovered rock ‘n’ roll. “He said this music is relaxing because there isn’t a lot of information coming in.” He told her, âI don’t have to think about it; it’s all the atmosphere and the emotion that overwhelms me.
âWriting is all of those three things,â Kushner said. âIt’s vibe and emotion, but you also organize things in a complex way in a way that isn’t all that different from a ladder structure. “
Kushner closed by reading the title “The Hard Crowd”, about his first bartending job at The Blue Lamp in the Tenderloin district, before answering questions from the audience online.
Following Kushner’s comment on writing in a trance state, a viewer asked how a budding writer could access that same state.
Calling it the âbillion dollar question,â Kushner laughed. âI would like to know the answer,â she said. But she got attached and described the daily life of writing. Beyond discipline and patience, she said, the process includes “taking note of those times of the day when I feel like I can notice something that no one else might notice. “.
âEveryone has these feelings,â she said. “And if you practice on it and write it down,” a writer can “nestle into that state.”
âMost of the time it’s a bust, but some days it’s not,â she said.