Friday, March 7, 2008

Ellen Litman

Ellen Litman is the author of The Last Chicken in America -- "Twelve linked, wryly humorous stories about an unforgettable cast of Russian-Jewish immigrants trying to assimilate in a new world."

Arsen Kashkashian interviewed her about the book.

Two questions from the interview:

KBC: The immigrants in The Last Chicken in America seem rather isolated and lonely. Do you think this is a result of their Russian culture? Or is it just the plight of immigrants coming to an American society that has turned inward, obsessed with television and computers? Or are these just the characters that interest you?

EL: I think that what happens – or at least what happened in my case – is, the world shrinks a little. The people in the book immigrate (often from big cities), and their choices, by necessity, are suddenly confined to this relatively small immigrant community. Some fit in, others don’t. Some find it comforting, others suffocating. For me it felt very lonely, and I spent a long time wanting desperately to break into the larger world and not knowing how. So I guess, my characters inherited that sense of isolation.

KBC: Many of the stories involve Masha, a college-age girl, new to the United States? How much does she share with your own background? Was coming from Moscow in the 1990s as difficult as it seems in the stories?

EL: I was a few years older than Masha when we came to the US in 1992. I had finished two years of college by then – in computers, naturally – and later transferred to the University of Pittsburgh, and then spent 6+ years working in IT, before turning to writing. So there are definitely some similarities. But yeah, the first few years were pretty hard, especially for my parents. They’d left so much behind, and now they had to start over somehow, and they were just learning English at the time. Plus they had me and my younger sister to worry about. Plus my grandmother, who was very sick. There was so much uncertainty. We were all struggling in our own ways, and we didn’t always know how to help one another.
Read the full interview.

Visit Ellen Litman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue