Generational Differences

Lauren has a pretty good take on the Mavis Gallant interview in the current Granta:

What I found most interesting about their conversation was the generational difference in the way the two approach not only their writing, but the conversation about writing. Lahiri is a very generous interviewer, giving Gallant lots of ideas and references to work with, but she is also a product of a deeply anxious, self-conscious generation of writers. Gallant is much more schematic, more declarative, while Lahiri scurries after making qualifications, or politely begging to differ. For example:

JL: This is one of many examples in your stories where at some point or another we’re in every character’s head. It’s an amalgam of points of view. It’s what Tolstoy does in his novels, but you do it in the confines of a story. For me, it was very hard to get to that point. When I first started writing, I always wrote from a single person’s point of view. But in your work, even in something early like Green Water, Green Sky, you’re already dipping in and out of various characters’ minds. Was this something that came easily?

MG: It must have, or I wouldn’t have done it.

JL: I felt that I couldn’t to it. I read your stories and other people’s stories to learn. I didn’t know how to go about it. But for you it felt natural?

MG: I never questioned it. The problem is getting it right.

I wonder if this isn’t rooted in the way writing gets discussed in creative writing programs. Probably it isn’t– Lahiri sounds like any other writer talking shop, and I’m sure Gallant is a great shoptalker when she’s in the mood– but there does seems to be a difference of attitude on display here.

I noted a lot of this going on in the interview as well. I don’t want to speculate as to why, but I will say that I’ve never been a big fan of the “how-do-you; how-does-it-feel; etc” brand of interview questions, as most writers (at least the honest ones) don’t have much of an answer. I like Lahiri’s lead-up to “Was this something that came easily?”, and I think this is where a lot of interviewers run afoul of things . . . good lead-up, but then it can be hard to find just the right question to put after that, so they just dump off a “How do you . . .” sort of question.

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