culture | 13 april 2017
We caught up with wellington author ashleigh young who recently won a $165 000 literary prize from yale. We asked her to read an excerpt from her new book 'can you tolerate this?' and also asked her a couple of questions. like what on earth are you going to do with all that money?
interview: mitch alison
video: mitch alison & russell kleyn
produced by: lo & behold and victoria university press
L&B: When did you decide to become a Writer?
AY: I can’t remember having a decisive moment. I was about four or five when I started writing stories and poems. But I actually wanted to be a dancer or a songwriter. Something where I could flail around on stage. I sometimes get to do that as a writer, now, but it's a slightly different sort of flailing.
How do you discipline yourself to write a book?
Well, I wasn’t disciplined at all. I took years with both of my books. I’m a disorganised writer and I tend to let things unfold at their own pace, and also let paid work get in the way. For my next book I will be more disciplined! I will. (I definitely will.) At the same time, I'm not sure that writing a book is really about 'being disciplined'. I think it's more about giving yourself permission to work on something that is very important to you. And to put that work above other things in your life sometimes.
What’s the book about?
The short answer is it's a collection of personal essays about my life and my brain. There’s a lot about family, and disorder, and there are some character portraits, and there are some more personal pieces that were quite hard to write. I would describe some of these essays as existential meditations, because sometimes not much happens.
What inspired the excerpt you’ve read?
It’s about being on a long walk that you don’t want to be on anymore. I wrote the piece when I was thinking about going on a long walk over a weekend. I was afraid it would be like other walks I’d been on, when a sort of desperation set in, and I was afraid to be alone with my thoughts and with this monotonously beautiful scenery. It's a very defeatist attitude. Especially for a New Zealander. But it's something that I often find myself worrying about: starting something then wanting to back out – just being unable to finish, being unable to find joy in it anymore.
What’s it feel like to win US$ 165,000?
It feels like someone else’s life. Maybe it’s like being that Russian deep-sea fisherman who caught all those bizarre creatures at the bottom of the ocean. Shock and disbelief and weird joy that this could be a real thing in the world. And also a serious suspicion that it’s all pretend.
What are you going to do with all that cash?
I haven't thought seriously about it yet! But one small thing is: I’d like to buy a new table and chair to write at. I’d also like to buy a cool piece of work by a local artist. I love Kerry Ann Lee’s work, and Sam Duckor Jones's. People keep telling me to put a deposit on a house but blow that for a joke.
Who are your favourite authors and why?
They change all the time, but right at the moment I am loving Teju Cole’s and Roxane Gay’s essays, and also the poet James Brown (I’ve been reading his new manuscript, forthcoming from VUP!). With each of these writers, I come out the other side of a book they’ve written, and I feel a little bit changed. There's some sort of energy I get from the way they see the world. Maybe I'm just talking about a feeling of hope. With these three writers, at the moment I'm really responding to how good they are at revealing the textures and nuances of joy, alongside, of course, pain and darkness and distress. I am always thinking about unhappiness and how to talk about it, but these writers make me think about ways we talk about happiness, too.
Can You Tolerate This? (Victoria University Press, $30) by Ashleigh Young is available at all good bookshops.
Ashleigh Young's Blog: Eyelash Roaming
Ashleigh's book 'Can You Tolerate This?': Victoria University Press Website
Ashleigh Young: @ashleighlouiseyoung
Victoria University Press: @vupbooks
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