Sunday, August 3, 2008

Tayari Jones

Tayari Jones is the author of Leaving Atlanta, which won the 2003 Hurston/Wright Award for debut fiction, and the acclaimed novel, The Untelling.

From an interview with Jones, conducted by Ana-Maurine Lara, in Torch:

AL: In both of your novels, Atlanta is the landscape that holds your characters' lives, and the reference points for their epiphanies. I'd love to know about your choice to use Atlanta as a setting. What role does landscape play in shaping your narrative? And lastly, what are your geographies?

TJ: I set my stories in Atlanta because it is the city I know best and also because it intrigues me. When I set out to write Leaving Atlanta, it was obviously set in Atlanta as that was the scene of the child murders, but it was an invisible locale, a sort of default setting. I wrote what I knew in the detail which I understood it. It is sort of hard for me to answer questions about process or setting because I tend to tell the stories where they are set. The story couldn't be set any place else. I think of the characters and who they are and where they live. The thing about fiction, for me, is that I tell a story that feels true. People sometimes say, "Why did you choose to put the story in this or that neighborhood..." And I say, "It's where the people live." I thought them up and this is where they are. Once the novel is finished I can, as a critic of my own work, say how it functions in terms of narrative, but that has little to do with my experience writing the novel.

Answering questions about writing is sometimes like answering questions about love. Can you imagine if someone said, "How did you fall in love?" You could probably cough up a couple of anecdotes, but the truth is that it's not deliberate like that. I feel the same way about writing a novel. I sit down and I struggle. I try. I fail. I try again. I explore different plots. Some work. Some don't. I break up with the novel, decide to write something else. We get back together again.

I can say that I tried to write a novel set in Phoenix. I was living there at the time. I found the landscape to be so interesting that I thought I could write a novel set there. I couldn't. I had only a superficial knowledge of the place, I couldn't access its metaphors, it's histories.
Read the complete interview.

The Page 69 Test: The Untelling.

--Marshal Zeringue