Catching up in the Reader? Here’s a selection of notable conversations and interviews featuring some of our favorite writers on WordPress.com.
On identity and empathy
Looking back, I was generally happy growing up in the Midwest, but it was a difficult place to work out my Asian American identity. For me, it was hard to be a visible minority without a vocabulary to understand my experiences or people to process them with. But in retrospect, I’m grateful that I went through this — both because it made me think seriously about race and ethnicity from an early age and because being different taught me empathy. I constantly had to connect and find common ground with people who weren’t exactly like me, and that was incredibly valuable.
Liz blogs at My Name is Elizabeth.
On the power of narrative
In a conversation with fiction writer Richard Smyth, we explored the short story, voice, and storytelling. Richard had especially great insights on history — and creating our own narratives:
Narrative fascinates me. It has such a hold on us, on the way in which we think about history. History is, basically, a massive mess. Imagine a page covered with 100,000 dots. You can draw almost an infinite number of lines by joining dot to dot, and that’s how much historical storytelling proceeds: joining event to event to make narratives. Then, if we’re good historians, we test each narrative to see if it makes sense and fits all the evidence. But if we’re bad historians and don’t bother doing that, the chances are we’ll get away with it — such is the power of narrative. You see it in politics all the time. We even think of our own lives in terms of linear narrative lines: how often do we think of ourselves as being somehow “in the middle” of our own life story? As if there’s a line laid out for us to follow. When of course, if our life is a story, we’re actually always, always on the last page.
Richard publishes his stories at Wild Ink.
On life after academia
In “Walmart with PhDs,” Slate education columnist Rebecca Schuman talked about 21st-century universities and her life after academia:
Right now a lot of my blog audience is academics and former academics, but most of my Slate readers aren’t (simply because Slate has a very large readership, and most of the world is not in academia). The reason I won’t quite let it go completely is that, at the risk of sounding super-egotistical, I think academia needs someone to poke it in the ass and hold it accountable for some bad practices, and I happen to have struck the kind of nerve that allowed me to get the exposure that in turn allows me to keep poking that ass.
Rebecca writes on her personal blog, pankisseskafka.
On the attraction to underground culture
Journalist Iain Akerman has spent many years covering the Middle East, focusing on culture and politics. In a recent interview, he expressed his fascination with underground art, music, and culture in the region, from Gaza to Beirut:
Subcultures or countercultures have always fascinated me, especially within oppressive or challenging circumstances. I want to know why they’re doing what they’re doing, what inspires them to do it, and why their particular expression manifests itself in a particular way. In the Middle East these underground movements or alternative scenes often have the added intricacy of being forms of nonviolent resistance — particularly in Palestine, but increasingly in Syria and areas of the Maghreb, where resistance or protest is often in the form of music or art or film. There is a river of injustice and inequality that runs deep through the Arab world, and those who opt to fight for political, social, or individual rights deserve to be heard.
Iain publishes nonfiction on his blog, Iain Akerman.
On the evolution of a book blog
We’ve followed the blog-to-book journey of writer Ann Morgan from the beginning, which has led to many opportunities, from speaking at TED to writing a novel. Still, she continues on with blogging:
All the same, it can be hard to keep pace with people’s expectations. I’ve had people telling me I should launch charities, publishing companies, literary agencies, and all kinds of other massive projects to help promote translation. But while blogging gives you many things, it doesn’t give you superpowers, so I just continue in the best way I can, selecting one new book to write about each month, and posting about news in the translation and international-literature communities. In this way, I hope the blog will continue to be a signpost and a launchpad for other people’s literary explorations — a source of encouragement for those interested in reading widely, and a place were people can pick up recommendations and share ideas.
Ann writes about literature and translation at A Year of Reading the World.