Megan Stielstra’s new essay collection, The Wrong Way to Save Your Life, is a guidebook to living in troubled times. I found myself putting the book down to draw out the time I had with it. Each essay is urgent and impassioned, unique and universal, a reminder we’re not alone.
Jaime Rochelle Herndon: Your other book is also an essay collection. How did you come to essay writing?
Megan Stielstra: In high school I was the kind of geek who cut class to hang out at the library. I’d sit on the floor, reading Tolkien, Atwood, Virginia Woolf, but the kicker was Richard Wright’s Black Boy. In chapter 13, the character of Richard gets a library card for the first time and, in reading novels, he’s able to understand people who are different than himself. There I was, a sixteen-year-old girl in super-sheltered, small-town Michigan, having this profound connection with an adult man in the Jim Crow South. It was the first of many stops in an ongoing dialogue I have with myself about the enormity of our world and my own responsibility and privilege within it. Continue reading
The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews playwright, theatrical director, and translator Philip Boehm. Philip has translated numerous novels and plays from German and Polish, including Hanna Krall’s Chasing the King of Hearts. Chasing the King of Hearts is a compelling work of literary reportage about of a Holocaust survivor with a unique story.
Andrea Gregovich: Chasing the King of Hearts is the story of Izolda, a Jewish woman who doesn’t so much escape the Holocaust as connive her way through it. She’s so clever she could find a way to escape the occupied area entirely, but she’s determined to stay and get her husband out of Auschwitz. Izolda thought about turning her story into a book for years, and rejected more than one author before she started working with Hanna Krall. What is it about Izolda’s story that is so urgent and unique? Continue reading
The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews Sanna Dhahir, Dean of the College of Science and Humanities at Effat University in Saudi Arabia and translator of Hend and the Soldiers by Badriah Albeshr. Hend and the Soldiers, a book that explores women’s sexuality and experience in Saudi culture, was banned by the government of Saudi Arabia.
Andrea Gregovich: I’m excited to talk to you about this book, because it’s a perfect example of how literary translation can be urgent and necessary, bringing hidden and oppressed voices to a global audience. How rare is an authentic female voice in the literature of Saudi Arabia, and just how groundbreaking is this book?
Sanna Dhahir: Thank you for giving me the chance to talk about my translation of Albeshr’s novel, a work I truly wanted to render in English for its literary merits and timely subjects.
Salt Houses, Hala Alyan’s multigenerational first novel about a Palestinian family, is a richly layered story of devastation, rebuilding, and making your way home, when you’re not even sure where that is anymore. As a Jew who believes strongly in the importance of a Jewish homeland, I wanted to read Salt Houses for a different perspective—to hear the stories I might not have heard otherwise. I asked Alyan some questions about the book and our current sociopolitical climate.
Q: You’re Palestinian-American. How much of this story is drawn from your family history and how much is part of the larger cultural story?
A: I borrowed structural elements from my familial history, in terms of the countries that appear in the book and the way the family in Salt Houses is displaced more than once. I wanted to keep the focus on this one particular family’s story, while also nodding to the larger sociopolitical context that housed it. I was inspired by the tradition of storytelling in Arab communities, and how that is a way of reclaiming history and identity. More generally, I was inspired by the resilience of refugees and immigrants I’ve come across in my personal and professional life, and I wanted to honor the story of displacement by unpacking it as honestly as I could. Continue reading
Scaachi Koul is a senior writer for Buzzfeed News. In addition to Buzzfeed, Koul’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Hairpin, and Jezebel, among others. Her debut collection of essays, One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter, was published by Doubleday Canada and Picador USA in May 2017. You can follow her on Twitter at @scaachi. Koul is based in Toronto.
EB: How did you start writing in general and nonfiction in particular?
SK: I don’t have any other transferable skills. The only thing I can do is write. If there was another option I would have picked something that required less self-loathing. I’m also a really bad liar—I’m not great at inventing narratives that feel honest. I’ve never been able to see a way to do that. My existence has been rife with its own pains—I don’t need to make stuff up right now. I started writing around twelve, thirteen, fourteen. I had a lot of journals and a lot of feelings. And that created this perfect storm that I have yet to escape. Continue reading
Lisa Dillman has translated numerous books, including Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World, which won the 2016 Best Translated Book Award, and several books by Andrés Barba. Barba’s novella Such Small Hands tells the haunting story of a young girl who loses her parents in a car accident and is sent to an orphanage for girls.
Andrea Gregovich: I was so touched by Such Small Hands because the young girls’ voices felt so authentic. Your translator’s note touched on the same thought I had as I was reading: how did this male author capture the painful internal world of orphaned girls so exquisitely? Do you get a sense of this from meeting him? Continue reading