By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

ELAINE CHIEW HEAD SHOTS 9806asb_w

Elaine Chiew is a writer and a visual arts researcher, editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015) and her short story collection The Heartsick Diaspora is forthcoming from Penguin Random House SEA (Oct 2019) and Myriad Editions UK (Jan 2020). Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore. Originally from Malaysia, Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London. Elaine lives in Singapore and blogs about art at www.invisibleflaneuse.blogspot.com. In this interview, she reveals more about her new book and her ideas.

Why do you write?

Very simply, I can’t not write, call it word-constipation or what Danish short story writer Naja Marie Aidt calls ‘an urge that cannot be overlooked’ or a ‘point of desire’. A character or voice arrives out of the blue, takes hold of you as in a waking dream, make me real, it says, and you do.

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“When, years later I myself became a writer and was asked, ‘Are you a Haitian writer, a Caribbean writer or a Francophone writer?’I would always answer that I took the nationality of my reader, which means that when a Japanese reader reads my books, I immediately became a Japanese writer,” said Haitian-Canadian writer Dany Laferriere in his novel I Am a Japanese Writer (2008), which was originally written in French and then translated to English.

These words were used by Teju Cole, the first Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing at Harvard, to illustrate how translations bond readers and authors. Translated works transcend the barriers of language and ethos as long as they touch the human heart. By touching deep emotions they create bonds and links to mankind. He talks of how lives are lost over refugee crisis and borders and says “literature can save a life”.

Brought up between US and Nigeria, Cole developed broad world views. Cole’s forte are novels and essays, including the much acclaimed Open City (2011) which was named ‘Best Book’ in more than twenty end-of-the year lists, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Economist , Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Kirkus Reviews. It was also named a New York Times Notable Book —  one of the ten top novels of the year by both Time and National Public Radio (USA).

NaipaulA House for Mr Biswas is episodic and packed with conflict. Mr Biswas subverts heroic convention: he is smart and funny, but also often petulant, mean and unsympathetic. His enemies, who are mostly his relatives, are largely unlikable, but they also have their admirable moments. The narrative of the novel is propelled by a clear goal – the acquisition of the titular house – which, it becomes apparent, can only be achieved by the most exhaustively circuitous route. It is a novel of epic length, formal perfection, and contains two notable peculiarities: its setting, which, being domestic, is unusual for an epic; and its geographical location, Trinidad, an important island in the Caribbean but not a particularly influential one on the world stage. And yet, this severely delimited context gave VS Naipaul an entire world of experience and feeling on which to draw. A House for Mr Biswas, published in 1961, is one of the imperishable novels of the 20th century.

Making a bold statement, novelists Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have withdrawn from the gala in honour of Charlie Hebdo

The decision by PEN American Center to give its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award to the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has prompted six writers to withdraw as literary hosts at the group’s annual gala on May 5, adding a new twist to the continuing debate over the publication’s status as a martyr for free speech.

The novelists Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have withdrawn from the gala, at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Gerard Biard, Charlie Hebdo’s editor in chief, and Jean-Baptiste Thoret, a Charlie Hebdo staff member who arrived late for work on Jan. 7 and missed the attack by Islamic extremists that killed 12 people, are scheduled to accept the award.

At Symphony Space’s Selected Shorts in New York, actors perform stories by authors Teju Cole and Salman Rushdie: The Guardian

Symphony Space’s Selected Shorts series is not like most literary events. While often authors will read their own work and then join in a conversation, at Selected Shorts, the reading is done by actors, almost changing short stories into dramas. Wednesday night was no exception, as authors Salman Rushdie and Teju Cole took the stage with host and Time Out New York contributing editor Matthew Love to discuss the components of a good story, only to make way for actors including Blythe Danner and Jeffrey Wright.

Salman Rushdie“There is one thing happening that I am excited about. The St. Louis opera company is making an opera of “Shalimar the Clown,” novelist Salman Rushdie told the Wall Street Journal on November 21. “They have a 2016 premiere date and so far I been having meetings every so often to discuss it.”

His new novel

“I am writing a novel right now so not reading much else,” he said about his latest work. “I’m slow, this book is getting itself written, I will take two years on it. I am a one thing at a time guy. Now I am very much focused on this.”

Meeting V. S. Naipaul

Two years ago, I was invited to a dinner party in New York. It took place on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, in a penthouse apartment. Our host was not merely rich: she had a name that through long association with money had itself become a shorthand for wealth. The dinner was being held in honor of a writer, by now old and famous, on the publication of his latest and perhaps final book. And because the book was about Africa, and because as a man ages his thoughts circle around questions of legacy, the writer, who was not himself African, had requested, in lieu of a normal book launch, a quiet dinner with a group of young African writers. This was how I came to be invited.

I stood in the luxurious living room of the penthouse, glass in hand, surrounded by Morandi’s paintings and Picasso’s prints. To the sound of a small bell, from a private elevator the old writer and his middle-aged wife emerged. He was short and stout—a little fat, even, though you could see he hadn’t always been so—and he walked across the marble floor unsteadily, with the aid of a walking stick, and with the aid of his wife, a dark-haired, dark-eyed woman, taller than him, glamorous in her pashmina. My agent, who was also the old writer’s agent, introduced us. “Teju, meet Vidia Naipaul.”