European authors speak on moving to America
Published: Friday, October 4, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 4, 2013 08:10
The Center for Humanities at Tufts (CHAT) yesterday hosted its first installment of “European Writers on the Move,” a lecture series exploring the different barriers that exist for foreign writers in the United States.
Yesterday’s lecture, titled “Shopping for a Better Country,” featured authors Josip Novakovich and Lara Vapnyar, who shared their work and participated in a question-and-answer session with the audience.
Jonathon Wilson, director of CHAT, kicked off the event by explaining the purpose of the series.
“It is good to hear from people who speak a different language, because we realize they write better than we do,” Wilson said.
Novakovich was born in Croatia and studied medicine in Serbia before moving to America and beginning his career as a writer. He wrote the novel “April Fool’s Day” in 2004, as well as three short story collections — “Yolk” (1995), “Salvation and Other Disasters” (1998) and “Infidelities: Stories of War and Lust” (2005). Novakovich is also known for his collections of narrative essays, including his most recent work “Shopping for a Better Country.”
The author was a finalist for the prestigious Man Booker International Prize in 2013, and he has received a Whiting Writers’ Award and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship.
At the talk, Novakovich read several of his works, including his short story “Soccer Game,” depicting an unruly soccer match during which a crowd becomes incensed when a player misses a penalty shot. Spectators pour from the stands and onto the field to deliver the player his fate: getting thrown into a cage with two grizzly bears.
Novakovich’s writing, which resembles stories told around the campfire, is described as a conversation.
“I like to play with absurdities,” he said.
Upon the author’s arrival in the United States, he found himself astonished by American culture.
“When I came here, I didn’t realize I could be anything I wanted,” he said.
Novakovich believes that translations of his work into other languages do not do the writing justice.
“I live in English, I write in English ... it’s a matter of geography,” he said.
The event continued with remarks from Vapnyar, a Russian-born author of several critically acclaimed works. Her writing has been featured in magazines like The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine.
Vapnyer’s novels include “Memories of a Muse” (2006) and “The Scent of Pine,” set for publication next January. She has also written two-short story collections, “Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love” (2008) and “There are Jews in My House” (2004).
Although Vapnyar majored in Russian literature in college, she said she has never written any short stories or novels in Russian. She highlighted the importance of trial and error in the writing process.
“In Russian, I would be a perfectionist,” she said. “In English, I allow myself to make mistakes because I don’t realize I am making them.”
Vapnyar then gave a reading of her short story “Fisher vs. Spassky,” in which the main character concludes that the promise of a better life cannot replace the intimacy of home.
The writer connected the character’s revelation to her own, as Vapnyar said she experienced a feeling of lost identity when she first arrived in America. Young and without any knowledge of the English language, she longed for her native country.
As she gained a better grasp of the language, however, Vapnyar found solace and identity in writing.
“Writing was a way for me to feel at home in a new place,” she said.