In early November my favorite author, Geraldine Brooks, spoke at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas as part of the Black Mountain Institute’s lecture series. The panel discussion she participated in was entitled To Swerve or not to Swerve: How Literature Navigates the Past. After the talk, I was able to meet Ms. Brooks and have her sign a copy of her book Caleb’s Crossing to give away to one lucky reader.
Geraldine Brooks is an Australian-born writer and winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in fiction for her novel March. Before becoming a novelist, she worked as a foreign affairs correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. If I could emulate any author, it would be Ms. Brooks. I love her vivid, intelligent stories and her authentic-sounding prose.
The full transcript of the talk can be found here. Below are some of the highlights.
“Where the line of fact frays away into the unknown, fiction gives you the license to imagine how it might have been.”
On engaging with history:
“For me, history is inspiration and I keep finding these amazing stories where you know something remarkable happened…the only way to engage with that material is through an informed—I hope informed—imaginative empathy.”
On historical accuracy:
“I think of it as the formwork…I’m looking to have such good formwork that when I build my fanciful and maybe slightly ridiculous edifice upon it, my readers will still trust me. I’ll be able to make them believe that that building could possibly stand.”
“If you need to change a historical fact, that’s what afterwards are for.”
On the issue of cultural appropriation:
“The overwhelming story is the human story. And I think that it’s wrong to sort of have an apartheid of the imagination and say that I can only imagine my way into the mind of someone who’s exactly like me.”
On her female characters:
“I’m interested in women’s stories and I’m interested in how hard it is to hear their voices in the historical record.”
On how her interaction with women during her journalism career informs her writing:
“If you seen women who’ve made those changes [away from traditional gender roles] in their own lives then you believe in them and can write them with conviction.”
On creating realistic historical worlds:
“I love portraits from the period, they can tell you an immense amount. I like to go to the places where the thing happened and just see the lay of the land.”
On drawing from personal experience:
“I think you draw on everything you’ve got. For me, it’s like every experience I’ve ever had and if I haven’t used it yet, I’m going to use it sometime…If I hadn’t been at the battle of Majnoun in between Iran and Iraq I wouldn’t have been able to describe a Civil War battle where young men were running straight at the lines of other young men, but I’d actually seen that and I’ve seen the aftermath of it. So you draw on that to describe it. Now, obviously, what you end up with is a fictional product but you’re drawing on reality to create that fiction. ”
On what’s next:
“I’m revising a novel that will come out—inshallah—next September called the Secret Cord and it’s about the relationship between King David and the prophet Nathan.”
To enter to win a signed copy of Caleb’s Crossing, leave a comment below about which author’s style you most admire and why. I’ll randomly select the winner from among those who comment and announce that winner January 6th.