In this series, we interview emerging and established writers as well as professionals in the publishing world to give you insight – and tools – to make the art and craft of writing easier.
Today’s chat is with author Kathleen Hill. Kathleen teaches in the M.F.A. program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her first novel, Still Waters in Niger, was named a notable book by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, and was nominated for the Dublin IMPAC Award. The French translation, Eaux Tranquilles, was short-listed for the Prix Femina Étranger. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize XXV, and The Pushcart Book of Short Stories.
Her second novel, Who Occupies This House, published this past fall, 2010, was selected as an Editors’ Choice by the New York Times.
Excerpt from Who Occupies This House?:
“The young man turned to look at me as I passed and swept out his hand in a wide gesture that offered it all, the boundless earth itself – just as if it had been his to give. When I got to the end of the block and looked back, he was gone, but the intensity of the light on the trees, if anything, had deepened, and the sky was the tender blue usually seen only at the winter solstice. This is the life we cling to, I thought.”
“This is a novel of great beauty. Step by step, it works its way deep into the interior lives of vanished family, sifting through evidence to solve mysteries, rejudge sorrows, and think, over and over, about forgiveness. An intense, exacting, and extraordinary book.” JOAN SILBUR
Jimin: Kathleen Hill’s reputation ballooned on Sarah Lawrence College’s campus in the mid-‘90’s. She’d been teaching since 1991 but the graduate program had just added her to their faculty by the time I was a student there in 1996. “Take her class,” I was told repeatedly, but I was in the middle of my thesis and too busy to circle back to a class I wasn’t required to complete for graduation, so I didn’t take their advice. It’s one of the few regrets I have from those years in Bronxville. So now, these many years later, I’m thrilled to interview Kathleen Hill for eChook. Generous and prompt, Kathleen did not disappoint and some of her answers (see below) may surprise you.
Jimin: What inspires your creativity and makes you want to write?
Kathleen: Reading, traveling, prayer (listening). Looking, more looking.
Jimin: What gets in the way of your desire to write?
Kathleen: Not enough time alone. Veils that drop between me and the world.
Jimin: Can you tell us a bit about the significance of “FALL”, the excerpt from Who Occupies This House? (To read the excerpt, visit Agni Online). I see a mesmerizing narrative that ‘falls’ into memory over and over, taking us deeper and deeper into grief and redemption.
Kathleen: I stumbled into this section, fell. I’d witnessed the grief of a friend around a lost child. Suddenly my character, Deirdre’s, preoccupations, obsessions, guilt, terror, became available to me. She allowed me in.
Jimin: When do you know a work is finished?
Kathleen: When it’s gone to print. Otherwise, I continue to work with it endlessly.
Jimin: How old were you when you started to write?
Kathleen: I was forty. Not a young writer. It was only then I was ready.
Jimin: Do your dreams ever inform your work?
Kathleen: Often. And they make an appearance in my work, too. As dreams.
Jimin: What was your favorite childhood book?
Kathleen: Anne of Green Gables: the first book I read about “the imagination.”
Jimin: What books are you currently reading?
Kathleen: I’m reading a novel by a Nigerian writer, Teju Cole, called Open City. It’s very good. You must read it. I’m telling everyone I know about it.
Jimin: What quality most intrigues you in a person?
Kathleen: Silence. The same thing that intrigues me most in a writer’s voice, the silence behind the words.
Jimin: What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Kathleen: A garden at full summer. A fountain. The sun lighting up the water as it falls on the garden.
Jimin: If you had the power to change anything in the world, what would it be?
Kathleen: Poverty, both inward and outward, and all the ills that come with not having enough.
Jimin: What persists for you as a constant source of worry or hope?
Kathleen: The hope of resolving conflict through non-violence: the examples of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mandela, Dorothy Day, and many others less well known. The worry that the will to violence is deeply rooted in all of us. In me.
Jimin: What’s next for you?
Kathleen: A collection I’ve been writing for some time on reading, on books that have informed my life, tentatively called Axe for the Frozen Sea: Kafka’s term for how a book should strike our own frozen spaces. It was work on this collection that was interrupted by my latest novel, intended to be only about fifty pages. In fact, intended to conclude the collection.
Jimin: Where can readers find out more about you?
Kathleen: Read Still Waters of Niger, Who Occupies This House? My website is www.kathleenhillwriter.com
Jimin: Thank you so much for your time.
Kathleen: Thank you!
Jimin Han (BA, Cornell University; MFA, Sarah Lawrence College) teaches a novel writing workshop and an introduction to writing fiction course in the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. Her work can be found in The NuyorAsian Anthology, Global City Review, The Asian American Pacific Journal, “Weekend America” on NPR, KoreanAmericanStory.org, and EssentialMom.com, among others. She lives in South Salem, New York, with her two children, her husband, a dog, and a tortoise
Jimin’s story, ‘HOW TO BECOME FRIENDS WITH A FAMOUS WRITER’ is included in our latest collection of short stories, MEMOIR, VOL. 1. To read an excerpt, CLICK HERE.