The Free Press, Mankato, MN


January 31, 2013

Panic at the interview: Unprepared moments with a big-time writer


Again, Tayari was polite. Her agent handles appearances, she said.

(At this point, with both of our geographical locations firmly established, the learned observer might have asked Tayari how much mostly white, mostly European, mostly middle-class Minnesotans might infer about race from her novels. Though fiction by genre, much of Tayari’s work attempts to draw direct links between larger social movements involving race and the actions of everyday people.)

I’d really like to say I recovered, gathered my wits and proceeded to ask a series of poignant, thoughtful and challenging questions to close our conversation. Rather, I asked a series of questions that were none of those things.

Thankfully, Tayari suffered my awkward stammerings with aplomb and delivered some interesting insights about her writing nonetheless. Among them:

— On the importance of history in day-to-day life: “When I went to (President Barack) Obama’s inauguration in 2009, it was one of those rare moments that was nostalgic even as it was occurring. ... But think of it: Every day, something historic is happening. People think of it as their lives, but not moments in_history.”

— On the dichotomous nature of her characters in “Silver Sparrow”: “My goal as a writer is not to condemn people, but to take their situation and illuminate them. You don’t have to forgive a character to understand them.”

— On advice for struggling writers: “We are blessed to be able to write at all. Honor that blessing. ... Let go of your literary reputation and your future, and just write.”

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