#AWP16 Featured Presenter Q&A with Philip Klay
AWP | February 2016
Event Title: The National Book Critics Circle Celebrates Award-Winning Authors Phil Klay, Héctor Tobar, and Amy Wilentz
Description: Three National Book Critics Circle award-honored authors—Phil Klay, Héctor Tobar, and Amy Wilentz—read from their work and talk with NBCC Vice President/Online Jane Ciabattari about inspiration, research, readers, awards, the unique challenges of writing from international material (Iraq, Chile, Haiti), and the imaginative process that gives their work originality. The National Book Critics Circle awards have honored the best literature published in English for 40 years.
Participants: Jane Ciabattari, Phillip Klay, Héctor Tobar, and Amy Wilentz
Date & Time: Thursday, March 31, 2016, 3:00pm – 4:15pm
Q: What are some of the conference events (besides your own) and/or bookfair exhibitors you are most excited to see?
A: The panel “Iraq Veteran-Writers 10 Years Later: Words After Words After War” has some writers I tremendously admire. Peter Molin, who is moderating the event, has for a long time been tracking the various types of art coming out about the Iraq War on his blog. He probably has a better sense than anyone else in the world of the wide range of work coming out about Iraq and Afghanistan, and I'm sure he'll lead a really lively discussion. The same day I also noted the panel “The Asian Face of War, Gaining Perspectives from Both Sides: A Look at WWII, Vietnam, and Korea,” which should be fascinating.
Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
A: I'm reading a book by Juanita Leon, County of Bullets, which is about the war in Colombia. It's just a fantastic work that, in many ways, reminds me of Dexter Filkins’ The Forever War. There are also a couple books coming out this year which I've read and whose publication I'm very much looking forward to—Matt Gallagher's Youngblood, a novel of the Iraq War that dramatizes not simply the internal struggles of soldiers but also the complicated moral quandaries involved in counterinsurgency. Eric Fair's Consequence. Fair, who served as an Arabic linguist interrogator in Iraq, first as a contractor, and then with the NSA, went public about torture in an op-ed in the Washington Post in 2007. His memoir is profoundly disquieting. And Kaitlyn Greenidge's We Love You, Charlie Freeman is a novel about a black family raising a chimpanzee at a research institution in New England. It's really funny, and really painful, and so astute about the politics and culture of race, science, and more.
Q: Given how much time writers spend alone to practice their craft, what do you think are the advantages of creating the large community that exists at the AWP conference?
A: To write, I rely heavily on my writer friends, not simply because I am constantly sending work out to fellow writers to give me edits, but also because the conversations I have with my fellow writers challenge me to see my work in a different light. I actually don't think of writing as such a solitary act. For me, community is essential.
Q: What question that you’ve never been asked before would you like to ask yourself? And how would you answer that question?
A: I'm not sure. Generally, if there's something I really want to say, I'll say it. Anything that surprises me that approaches my work from an angle I wouldn't have expected, those are the questions that gratify me the most.
Q: Outside of the conference, what about Los Angeles are you looking forward to? Are there any Los Angeles activities you would recommend to conference attendees?
A: Los Angelinos always trash-talk New York's Mexican food. I intend to find out if the food there really does live up to the hype.
Phil Klay is a Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq War and the author of the short story collection Redeployment, which received the 2014 National Book Award for fiction and the 2015 National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Award for best debut in any genre.