Friday, November 9, 2007

Rushdie & Sebold & Mom

Here's an article about my on-stage interview with Alice Sebold.

The part of our discussion I connected to the most was when she talked about her need to find a voice to propel the story. I love the "click" that happens when the juicy voice manifests.

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Yesterday Kelly (my co-director) and I picked up Salman Rushdie at the aiport. As he walked toward us, a young woman ran up to him, brandishing a copy of one of his novels. "Mr. Rushie? Will you sign my book?" she gushed. Turns out she had a friend on the flight who had alerted her to the fact that Rushdie was on the plane--so she hurried over with her book. Her crafty move saved her from waiting in a long line that evening because 800 people came to our event at San Jose State.

Before the event, we had dinner with Rushdie at the home of one of our board members. There were twelve of us there in the penthouse, overlooking the sparkling lights of San Jose. Rushdie was generous, funny and intelligent in personal conversation as well as later on stage. During dinner, the conversation turned to earthquakes, since we'd just had one last week. Rushdie kept us entertained as he discussed a number of novels and stories that feature earthquakes.

He also talked about the historical novel he has just finished writing. Other topics ranged from exercise (he wants a tee-shirt that says "Exercise Kills") to Harry Potter (his ten-year-old son drilled Rowling when he met her about inconsistencies in her series--and Rushdie thinks Rowling's opinions about Dumbledore's being gay are irrelevant and that it's up to us to determine character from the text. I pointed out that there is a whole history of sub-textual homoeroticism in literature, however, which he seemed to regard as an intriguing point.)

After dinner, we walked to campus, where Rushdie sat with Kelly and me in our office and signed some posters and books. We then took him to our newly refurbished Morris Dailey Auditorium where he spoke and then sat with my colleague, Revathi Krishnaswamy, for an on-stage conversation, followed by audience questions.

He talked at length about how story-telling is a human impulse--and also about the fascination people have with how autobiographical a particular piece of fiction may or may not be. He said that Nabokov, for instance, was not a pedophile but people assume he must have had "ideas" since he explored that territory. Just because writers grapple with the problems of humanity and of their era does not mean they have necessarily experienced them personally. Rushdie wants us to question why we care of something "really" happened and to appreciate story not for its supposed autobiographical truths but for its emotional truths.

He talked about why he is writing only fiction these days, not opinion pieces as he used to write monthly for the Times: it was exhausting to have to have an opinion a month, twelve a year--much less two a week like the Maureen Dowds of the world.

When asked about his appearance on Bill Mahr, he said the comedians such as Mahr and Colbert are doing important political work these days. Fitting that a satiric novelist would say so.

As other important memories from last night come to me, I will share them in new entries. For now, I'm a little brain-dead because of the intensity of the preparations and the rush of last night. Rushdie signed books for about 45 minutes and then we had a private reception with about 50 people where I introduced him to a number of people and he chatted in small groups on topics from politics to writing to teaching. After signing more books and sitting for pictures, he was whisked back to the hotel at 11 p.m. Ours was his fourth speaking engagement in as many days, so I'm sure he's happy to be back on the plane to Manhattan this morning.

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I'm happy to have a quiet morning with my sister, Ann, here. She flew in from San Diego last night. Today we're going up to my mom's to celebrate her 75th birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom.
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