Image: Amadeus Leitner
I interview Patricia Powell, author of The Pagoda, for the latest issue of sx salon: A Small Axe Literary Platform, which looks at Chinese-Caribbean literature. Powell comments on, amongst other things, embodying a character of a different race from a different time, the influence of V.S. Naipaul, the struggles of being a lesbian Caribbean writer, and the redemption that comes from taking big risks. She reflects:
"I want my stories not only to change lives but to save them. I want my stories to raise large social, political, and spiritual questions that provoke thought, challenge beliefs, help people deal with the complexities of their lives, and help people through devastation. And over the years, as I’ve become more influenced by Eastern philosophies, by transformational studies, by alternative healing and medical modalities—and by the large social problems that continue to trouble us in profound ways—I want my books to do even more, I want them to be a serum, an antidote to people’s pain. I want them to open up the nature of reality and make transformation possible."
Kaya Genç shares an affecting reflection in The Los Angeles Review of Books on Zadie Smith’s short story “The Embassy of Cambodia,” released last November as a slim, handsome book by Penguin. He discusses Smith’s use of the first-person plural—“not a very popular grammatical person”—to “add a certain gossipy quality to the narrative, more than anything else.” This formal interest in gossip and anecdote can be traced to "Stuart," Smith’s first story in The New Yorker and the last in the twentieth century to be published by that magazine. That story’s epigraph? A Russian saying: “He lies like an eyewitness.”
"It doesn’t take long before we understand that our first-person-plural narrator is not a chorus, but a specific resident of Willesden who speaks on behalf of her community, a representative chorus. ‘Of the Old and New People of Willesden I speak,’ she informs us, ‘I have been chosen to speak for them, though they did not choose me and must wonder what gives me the right.’ We even get a glimpse of her as she stands on the balcony that overlooks the embassy in her dressing gown. The narrator approaches herself from outside and describes her figure, again, in first-person plural. We thus see her as she is: an elderly lady speaking on behalf of her community. But does she have the right to do such a thing?"
"He had come out to confidants but had not taken the step publicly. He said that he and a few friends had been ‘brainstorming what to do for a while,’ in half a dozen conversations in bars over the last eight months. When he finally made the decision, it became a multimedia coming out, the initial online chapter followed by a cyclone of Twitter messages and a six-part video where he talks about education, creativity and his own experience, posted online as "We Must Free Our Imaginations."