Sunday, March 11, 2018

Interview with Tayari Jones

Here's her book, Tayari Jones, An American Marriage: A Novel.

Yes, it's a progressive "Oprah Book Club" offering, but I read everything and this looks interesting.

At LAT, "Talking to Tayari Jones about 'An American Marriage' and Oprah":
“An American Marriage” is a departure from your previous novels, which mainly focused on younger characters. Your new book is about adults with complex problems. What was it like for you to work on this different canvas? It was super challenging. When I had written novels with younger characters, I was confident that I knew more than they did, so I felt I had distance from the subject matter and a wisdom about the conflicts. In writing this novel, the characters are nearly as old as I am, and they’re struggling with questions for which I wasn’t sure I had the answers. The writing was more of an exploration.

I also intimidated myself early in the process with all the research. I discovered horrible things about the American penal system, and at first I was trying to novelize my research. I don’t like to read things that feel like the novel version of a sociological text, but for a while I felt like if I didn’t incorporate all of my research, I was somehow not being true to my aim of discussing the problem. But that is the absolute wrong way to approach writing a novel. As they say, you should write about people and their problems, not about problems and their people. I learned way too much about the problem and I didn’t have the people. I was learning, but I wasn’t imagining.

Although Roy and Celestial are newly married at the start of the novel, their marriage isn’t idyllic. Roy still collects phone numbers from other women, Celestial doesn’t understand how much pressure her family’s wealth puts on Roy. What are the challenges of writing about a marriage that has yet to completely gel?

I didn’t find a challenge in that at all. I think a fairy-tale marriage is harder to write, because a fairy tale doesn’t resemble anything you’ve ever seen in real life. I just wrote the characters real.

For example: Celestial is an artist, she’s ambitious, she wants to chase her dream. Anyone who’s chased a dream knows it takes a lot of time and focus, particularly in the arts. And she can’t do that and be the dutiful caretaker of an incarcerated person. So she has to make choices. If someone asked you if she had the right to pursue her dreams, without mentioning her husband, you would say, “Of course!” If your marriage is keeping you from pursuing your dreams, you need a new marriage. But if you add that Roy is wrongfully incarcerated, then it’s almost like she’s being a negligent member of her community. How does one balance your commitment to the collective, and taking care of yourself? This is a balance I struggle with all the time. I think a lot of women do...