Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mona Simpson

Butler has played host to a diverse array of authors this year. I've heard Junot Diaz ("The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao") who wowed me with his bad-boy persona, all attitude. I've heard Edwidge Danticat speak eloquently on the devastation wreaked on her Haitian homeland by the recent earthquake. I've heard the erudite Mark Strand read his poems to the young, Butler crowd whose world seemed light-years away from his.

Mona Simpson, who ironically, drew the smallest crowd of all these authors, was by far the most relatable and accessible. I haven't had the chance to read any of Simpson's novels yet, but she described her newest, "My Hollywood", as a novel in two voices: one, a white, middle-class, woman with a baby, and the other, a 52 year-old Filipina immigrant who works as her nanny.

Simpson shared many pearls of wisdom about her craft. In referring to her upcoming novel, she remarked how ironic it was that the voice of the "other," the Filipina character, was the voice she felt was the easiest for her to capture.

I asked her if, as she begins the process of writing a novel, she has the entire plot already in her head. She answered that she doesn't - although she is usually aware of the signposts that would guide her way.

She was asked what she knows now that she wishes she knew at the start of her writing career, and she shared that she wishes she knew she didn't have to be so afraid of how she appears. She said she had aspired to be a Primo Levy, or a Tolstoy, and not a "Ladies' Home Journal" writer, but that over time she has become more comfortable in who she is as a writer. That seemed to be an important piece for her, and was something she thought was important for us all - to become comfortable in who you are and what you do best, no matter what that is.

Mona Simpson didn't have the bravado of Diaz or the emotional distance of Strand, but she was candid, genial and open, and a great close to this year's Butler Writers Series.

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