January 19, Wednesday evening -- Reading Chris Adrian, Daniel Alarcón, and Yiyun Li

Not far from an art display of books falling from the sky
masses crowded into City Lights bookstore to hear three of the twenty writers, under the age of forty, who had been selected by The New Yorker as writers "who capture the inventiveness and the vitality of contemporary American fiction" and appeared in the anthology 20 under 40: Stories from The New Yorker.
The authors represented were Chris Adrian, who is a doctor, and read about a woman coping from the loss of a baby; Daniel Alarcón, who was born in Peru, raised in Alabama, and read about the transition a kid makes when moving to the United States; and Yiyun Li, who was trained as a math prodigy, and read about....almost a week later I'm having problems remembering.

During the q&a session, I asked about their favorite authors. Chris Adrian said Melville, or, if he had to pick a living author, Ursula K. Le Guin. Debra Treisman, the Fiction Editor of The New Yorker who hosted the event, said she couldn't pick an author who was living, because that would be unfair in her position, but named Nabokov as her favorite dead writer. Yiyun Li said the author and playwright, William Trevor, who she once went to London to hear. On the train platform following the reading, a man came up to Trevor and told him, with tears in his eyes, that when his wife was dying he read his stories to her and William Trevor said, "that's why I write stories." Daniel Alarcón said that last year his favorite author was Joseph Roth and that he read his book, Flight Without End six times and identified with the main character, an Austrian who escapes from a Russian POW camp in WWI, so much that he almost changed his email address to be at one with the character.

When someone asked the authors how the cities they live in inform their writing -- Yiyun Li and Daniel Alarcón live in Oakland and Chris Adrian lives in the Castro in San Francisco -- there were a few chuckles. They commented on the stereotype that authors don't leave the house and Alarcón described a friend of his who has a sign on the refrigerator that reads: 73% of Americans leave the house every day. The sign is there for motivation. If they can do it, I can do it, too! ....but isn't 27% who don't leave the house awfully high?


Special K said...

GAH! I bought that book and then I LOST it before I read it. V. Sad. Sounds like a fun event!

Sonya said...

ay! I hope you find it. I haven't bought the book, but am hoping to check it out at the library.