MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Before we say goodbye today, let's get a little literary with our monthly segment "Bookend."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Today we meet local author, Howard Norman. He teaches creative writing at the University of Maryland and is best known for novels that examine how love and violence play out against the stark backdrop of Canada's Maritime Provinces.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
But in his new memoir, Norman looks at how strange and sometimes violent events have shaped his own life. That includes a murder-suicide committed in his Chevy Chase home by a poet who killed herself and her two year old son while housesitting one summer. Jonathan Wilson caught up with Norman to talk about how living and working in the nation's capital has influenced his writing.
MR. JONATHAN WILSON
Anyone who's read your writing knows that you often focus on places that are known for natural beauty, even a kind of solitude, and yet you end up settling in Washington D.C., definitely a place not known for that, though there are, you know, ways to find that here. So what has it been like for you to be here and to stay here?
MR. HOWARD NORMAN
It's a compelling question because it speaks to a kind of paradox. I've never written anything in Washington. That's not to disparage the place, it's just to underscore the fact that daily life can be distracting. Teaching and friends and working in schools and so on and so forth.
MR. HOWARD NORMAN
All these books have been written in Vermont. A couple were completed out at Point Reyes where I go every year in California, maybe one out in Halifax. But essentially it's a matter of the displacement of the imagination. I travel to the Maritimes of Canada, you live, you eavesdrop, you absorb the atmosphere, the history, research in archives obsessively and then go back to Vermont and displace the imagination by writing about Nova Scotia. That displacement of the imagination does not work for me here. And rather than just brood about that I've just sort of embraced it.
I wonder how you feel that both teaching and living in the nation's capital has affected your writing, even if you're not necessarily writing while you're here in D.C., do you think that doing that for, you know, I guess going on 25 years now, has affected and changed your writing over the years?
Here in Washington I live a very prescribed life. I go to Politics and Prose, I go to Arukala (sp?) to see what new pasta sauce there is, otherwise I'm home. So I've learned to adjust to living in Washington.
One thing I do feel very strongly is that Washington, like most American cities, is a place of murder. Just statistically, you are surrounded by homicides, you are surrounded by violence.
In my novels, I tend to isolate an individual act of violence framed by a landscape, perhaps deceptively pastoral landscape, and so one is allowed then to focus on the actual repercussions of an individual murder rather than a murder that's stuck on page 18 of "The Washington Post."
Urban violence is something I can't write about, I don't know how to write about it. I actually have no interest in writing about it. But I'm acutely aware of it when I'm writing about that circumstance in other places.
Many people know the story of Reetika Vazirani, that murder-suicide that was kind of, as you say, visited upon you. Did it strike you as an echo of stuff that you already write about? Is it something that still really affects your life and will it change your writing in the future or has it changed your writing?
The memoir is less about particular incidents than it is about sort of arguing against the idea of a convenient notion of closure. And I don’t believe in it. I think that things that will stay after you, you love somebody, they're no longer in your life, doesn't mean that you've shut them out.
A violent incident happens, it may keep reinstating itself in some ways that are unpredictable. I'm certainly against willfully and self-indulgently holding onto pain. But it seems to me that certain incidents in one's life have a kind of inventiveness or perseverance and keep coming back around in various forms or another and the idea is to kind of, maybe, transmute those into writing.
That event, much of it was dealt with in the last essay of this book. In some ways I still think about it but far more glancingly now. Time, big cliché, does diffuse the memories of certain things. But I would say that applies to every single thing in this book, not just that incident.
That was author Howard Norman, speaking with Jonathan Wilson. Norman teaches creative writing at the University of Maryland College Park. His new memoir titled, "I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place" will be in bookstores July 9th. You can hear Norman reading an excerpt on our website, metroconnection.org.
And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jacob Fenston, Jonathan Wilson, Emily Berman, Brian Russo and Jerad Walker along with NPR's Susan Stamberg. WAMU's managing editor of news is Meymo Lyons. "Metro Connection's" managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our interns are Eva Harder and Kayla Peoples. Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.
Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts" is from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. All the music we use is listed on our website, metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song.
And if you missed part of today's show you can hear the whole thing on our website by clicking the "This Week on Metro Connection" link. You can also subscribe to our podcast there or find us on iTunes, Stitcher and the NPR news app.
We'll be away next week for the July 4th holiday but we're back July 12th with a brand-new show about "Inspiration." We'll meet some D.C. kids being inspired by baseball for the very first time. We'll check out a new play inspired by gender transformation in the nation's capital. And we'll meet a musician who's writing songs inspired by each and every station on "Metro."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE ONE
The Wheaton Escalator ride takes two minutes and 45 seconds, so if you start the song at the top of the escalator, it will end at the very bottom of the escalator.
I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
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