Volume 1, No. 1, February 2014
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Welcome to the February 2014 issue of Writers in Conversation. This is our very first issue, and we are delighted to publish what promises to be an exciting and diverse journal, filling a much-needed gap. As the response to our call for papers showed, there are many writers out there keen to discuss their work with interviewers, and interviewers keen to share what they have learned. Writers in Conversation welcomes them heartily!
If anything unites the interviews in this initial issue, it is, paradoxically, diversity. The pieces reflect a transnational world of global writing, with the subjects residing in India, Australia, Canada, the USA and the UK; several of them live in countries other than the ones they were born in, or spend time in various locations on the globe. We are proud that this reflects the dominant strains of contemporary literature, as identified in the most recent Booker shortlist.
Rather than list all the interviews here, and what they are about, we would like you to read them and discover this for yourselves. We will simply say that, mirroring the variety of writers, there is a great diversity in the subject matter and themes discussed: approaches to writing, realism, feminist politics, fantasy. You will be introduced to writers of fiction, poetry, drama and history, and see how writers explore gender, transgender, race, politics and war. We have learned a great deal about contemporary writing in our work on these interviews, and we are sure you will too.
Enjoy!Nick Turner and Gillian Dooley, Editors
From Volume 4, no. 1, February 2017 Writers in Conversation will be published in Open Journal Systems and this website will no longer be updated.
ItemPeter Stansky, historian and writer, in conversation: George Orwell and the Spanish Civil War.( 2014-01-24)Peter Stansky is an eminent Emeritus Professor of History, specialising in Modern British History, who has been at Stanford University since 1968. I sought him out for his expertise on Orwell while researching at the Hoover Institute on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University in April 2013. I was aware that Stansky had written two books on Orwell, in collaboration with William Abrahams, The Unknown Orwell in 1972 and Orwell: The Transformation in 1979. This conversation focuses on Orwell and his role in Spain and deals with some of the issues faced by Stansky and Abrahams in writing their Orwell books. The conversation also includes references to three historians who are pivotal in my thesis - Paul Preston, Burnett Bolloten and George Esenwein.
ItemWriting a Life Between Gender Lines Conversations with A. Revathi about her autobiography The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story( 2014-01-24)A. Revathi was born physiologically male but felt and behaved like a girl - this is how she tells her story, as will be clear from the interview below. Nearly her whole childhood, spent in a village in Salem district of Tamil Nadu, was plagued by this deep and nagging unease of being trapped in the wrong body and by 'a growing sense of irrepressible femaleness'. But when she behaved like one of her girl-playmates, it only meant repeated humiliation and violence by her family and community. This affected her academic performance, and she had to drop out of school after failing the tenth grade. In a quest to be true to herself, Revathi, still in her teens, ran away from home and travelled to Delhi to join a house of hijras. Hijras are male-to-female transsexuals who undergo a surgical removal of the genitals (often performed surreptitiously and in unsanitary conditions) and comprise a distinct community across India with elaborate customs and regulations of their own. Hijras are given ritualistic importance by mainstream Indian society (for instance, their blessings are considered to bring good fortune) but at the same time they are easy targets for sexual crimes, discriminated against in public spaces, and have few options for livelihood apart from performing at social events, begging or prostitution. Revathi, now in her mid-forties, discusses all this with remarkable candour and courage in her autobiography The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story, translated into English from Tamil by V. Geetha and published by Penguin India Books in 2010. This autobiography is among the very first of its kind in India, uninhibited with regard to divisive gender lines, sexual hypocrisy of 'traditional' societies, and the dismal lack of public discourse on the rights of sexual minorities.
Item'Setting off fireworks over a mysterious city': An Interview with Kathleen Winter( 2014-01-24)Winter was born in Bill Quay in the north of England in 1960, but moved to Newfoundland in eastern Canada at the age of eight. Her novella, Where is Mario, was published in 1987, and two works of creative non-fiction entitled The Road Along the Shore and The Necklace of Occasional Dreams followed in 1991 and 1996. Her first collection of short stories, entitled boYs, was published in 2007 and awarded both the Metcalfe-Rooke and Winterset awards that year. In 2014, Winter will publish Boundless, a non-fiction account of her journey through the Northwest Passage, as well as a new collection of short stories entitled The Freedom in American Songs. Our interview was conducted via email correspondence throughout September and October 2013.
ItemIn conversation with Shyamala Gogu , Dalit feminist writer, Poet, and Activist( 2014-01-24)Shyamala Gogu is a Dalit feminist writer, poet, and Activist in Andhra Pradesh, India. She edited Nallapoddu:Dalitha Sthreela Sahityam 1921-2002 (Black Dawn: Dalit women's writings, 1921-2002). It was followed by Nallaregatisallu: Madiga Madiga Upakulala Aadolla Kathalu (Furrows in Black Soil: The Stories of Madiga and Madiga Subcaste women) in 2006. In 2011, She published a biography of one of Telangana's leading women dalit politicians, T.N. Sadalakshmi ( Nene Balanni, T.N. Sadalakshmi Bathuku Katha), based on a series of interviews with her (forthcoming from Navayana as The Last Place for a Dalit Women: The Life of T.N. Sadalakshmi, translated by Gita Ramaswamy). She is currently leading an Oxfam funded research project on domestic violence and dalit women.
ItemSudeep Sen: an Interview( 2014-01-24)An in-depth interview with poet, editor and critic Sudeep Sen, discussing his various books, postcolonial theory, and form. Extensive quotations from his poetry are included.
ItemA Kind of Craziness: Susanna Moore on Women, Writing, Sex and Feminism( 2014-01-24)The closing scene of Susanna Moore's 1995 novel, In The Cut, remains one of the most shocking and powerfully written episodes of sexual violence by a contemporary female author. Narrator, Frannie Avery, watches as her breasts are sliced from her body. This violent description later shifts to a disengaged poetic consciousness in which Frannie's narration dissolves into quotation. Moore's juxtaposition of meditative description with an account of dismemberment renders the scene so beautiful, that it is potentially hugely troubling. As one critic's response reflects, how can a presumed feminist justify producing an 'erotic story involving the matter-of-fact mutilation of women'? It was Moore's responses to queries such as these, as well as my own ambivalent attraction to her narratives, as a woman, a writer, and a feminist, that I wanted to gain a greater understanding of by interviewing the author. As a reader of Moore's fiction, I am fascinated, as many women would be, by the representations of femininity in her novels. From The Whiteness of Bones to Sleeping Beauties, In the Cut, One Last Look and The Big Girls, it seems that the women in her novels seem to encounter certain hardships and dangers, simply because they are women. Perhaps more disturbing than Moore's unapologetic depiction of sexualised attacks on the female body was my discovery, during research prior to the interview, that In the Cut is listed on Playboy's 'Top 25 'sexiest' novels of all time.' Moore acknowledges that 'it is important for a writer to understand and anticipate the response of their readers,' and that often the topics of her novels have been chosen to elicit a particular response, to change the way her writing and her identity as an author has been perceived - but is it always a desirable response? And are authors ever free of moral responsibility?