Sunday, April 26, 2009

Is it (merely) autobiographical?--Part IV

I like Colson Whitehead's answer in a recent interview in Rumpus when he was asked the "is it autobiographical question." If I'm ever so lucky to finish my book and be published and asked about my work, I'll probably say something like this.

Q: Did writing this “autobiographical fourth novel” (as you call it) feel risky in any way?

Colson Whitehead: Let’s get the boilerplate disclaimer out of the way—I overlap with Benji, and use my summer of 1985 as a touchstone for his experience, but you can’t make a one-to-one correlation between my life and his, blah blah, it’s fictional, blah blah and etc.

That said, when I started the book I knew I had to go “all-in,” as they say on those TV poker shows. I was going to dive into all that grisly and gruesome adolescent muck and try not to gag—if I didn’t, the reader wouldn’t see their own horrible squirming existence in Benji’s existence. Once I was up to my chin, it was easy to be truthful about other things—things I had experienced myself and could transform into something that would serve the story, and things I have witnessed in other people’s lives. I had a strict No-Flinch policy from the get-go.

I haven't read Whitehead's new book yet, but I do remember reading and enjoying an excerpt from it sometime in the last year, probably in The New Yorker, knowing my reading habits.

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