The Nonfiction Dialogues is a student-initiated evening series in which Professor and Writing Program Chair Lis Harris interviews distinguished nonfiction writers about their work and careers. Recent guests have included Eula Biss, Alexander Chee, John D’Agata, Ian Frazier, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, and Mary Roach.
I read in a report that a journalist named Ahan Penkar at The Caravan magazine was beaten at a police station in north Delhi on 16 October. Penkar was covering a protest concerning the alleged rape and murder of a 14-year-old Dalit girl employed as a domestic worker. Penkar was hauled inside the police station along with four protesters. He held his press card in front of him and shouted that he was a journalist covering the protest but to no avail. While they were being beaten, a policeman asked the men: “Why do you all keep doing this? Tumhe nahin pata hai ki desh badal gaya hai?”—Don’t you know the country has changed?
I suspect writers are more likely than, say, firefighters or doctors or second basemen to seek professional advice from those they admire. This is because writing is regarded as a magical act, its mysteries parted, if only temporarily, by the adoption of some practical rules about point of view or the use of revealing details. The truth, of course, is that writing is a wholly individual, idiosyncratic practice. When I started asking writers I knew or met at literary festivals to sign their books with a piece of valuable advice, I began to see it not as self-help but, instead, as a glimpse into that particular writer’s mind.
Topic Amitava Kumar (Every Day I Write the Book) In Conversation with Hua Hsu
Description Amitava Kumar’s Every Day I Write the Book is for academic writers what Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life and Stephen King’s On Writing are for creative writers. Alongside Kumar’s interviews with an array of scholars whose distinct writing offers inspiring examples for students and academics alike, the book’s pages are full of practical advice about everything from how to write criticism to making use of a kitchen timer. Communication, engagement, honesty: these are the aims and sources of good writing. Storytelling, attention to organization, solid work habits: these are its tools. Kumar’s own voice is present in his essays about the writing process and in his perceptive and witty observations on the academic world. A writing manual as well as a manifesto, Every Day I Write the Book will interest and guide aspiring writers everywhere.
Amitava Kumar is Helen D. Lockwood Professor of English at Vassar College and the author of numerous books, including Lunch with a Bigot; A Matter of Rats; and Nobody Does the Right Thing, all also published by Duke University Press; and most recently, Immigrant, Montana: A Novel.
Hua Hsu began contributing to The New Yorker in 2014 and became a staff writer in 2017. He is the author of A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific. He has previously written for Artforum, The Atlantic, Grantland, Slate, and The Wire. His work has been anthologized in “Best Music Writing” and “Best African American Essays,” and his 2012 essay on suburban Chinatowns was a finalist for a James Beard Award for food writing. He also served on the editorial board of “A New Literary History of America” (2009) and was formerly a fellow at the New America Foundation. Hsu is currently an associate professor of English at Vassar College and serves on the executive board of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop.
Virginia Quarterly Review has uploaded three of my #coronavirusdiary entries and three drawings as a part of their #VQRTrueStory series described as a “social-media experiment in nonfiction.” Go here for the first, here for the second, and here for the third.