Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Orhan Pamuk @ The National Book Festival

During the session before Orhan Pamuk’s live interview and talk at the The National Book Festival last weekend, he entered into the tent where another reader was answering questionson. Even though the earlier speaker had been holding everyone’s attention, there was a sudden silence and then whispered chatter from the audience in more than one language. Two young girls sitting on the grass next to me started to point and talk excitedly in Turkish.

Marie Arana, writer at large for the Washington Post, introduced Pamuk and interviewed him. The questions ranged from a focus on his life’s trajectory to his many published books and writing habits. While I have only had the pleasure of reading Snow, I do hope to read more of his books in the future.

Pamuk’s answers focused on the fact that “writing is a craft like any other.” He reminded the audience that the “craft” side, the “work” of writing, is often forgotten. Writers are praised for their creativity and art, but most of their work revolves around “turning around sentences and writing.” Renaissance painters were artists, but they were also craftsmen, almost like plumbers. There is work that has to be done and the craftsmen do it in order to create art.

When discussing his family life growing up and his daily writing habits, he brought up his Nobel acceptance speech, “My Father’s Suitcase “ (you can read the entire piece here, which I encourage you to do for the insight into the writing life, as well as Pamuk’s childhood.) The “need” and “weight” of literature, set quite literally in his father’s suitcase, are eloquently described. Here is a telling line from this essay, “The writer's secret is not inspiration – for it is never clear where it comes from – it is his stubbornness, his patience.”

Pamuk asserted that it is possible to learn how to write, but a writer must learn not only the craft from literature, but also learn from life. The “university of life,” he added, “includes some good books. But, just like everything else, you need luck, vigor and more.”

The audience members posed questions and one asked him about his books available in translation. Of course, he noted, “something is lost and something is gained” in a good translation. His emphasis, though, was on the many layers that a book offers that indeed can be translated.

The most entertaining comment came from a psychologist who said that he prescribed Pamuk’s newest book, Museum of Innocence, to a local janitor. He said that he often prescribes literature as a part of his therapy. Pamuk joked that perhaps this recommendation should be on the front cover of the book.

Have you read Orhan Pamuk’s work? I hope you will share your thoughts below in the Comments section.

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