Category Archives: Interviews

Babies, Bylines, and Life in Smoggy Cities: An Interview with Pallavi Aiyar

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

I’ve been a fan of Pallavi Aiyar’s writing since 2008.  Back then, she was based in Beijing, reporting for the Hindu as its first Mandarin-speaking correspondent, and had just published her debut book, Smoke and Mirrors: An Experience of China, a prizewinning work that received many positive reviews — including one that I wrote for Foreign Policy. I have continued to read her regularly since she has moved on from China to first Brussels, then Jakarta, and now Tokyo, publishing a novel and several new non-fiction books along the way.  I managed to catch up by email recently with the peripatetic and prolific Pallavi, who was incidentally among the first journalists that China Beat interviewed after that precursor to this blog was launched in 2008, and asked her to tell us more about her most recent books, Babies and Bylines and Choked, both 2016 publications.        Continue reading

Nick van der Kolk of Love and Radio Relishes Ambivalence

By Hannah Harris Green

Love and Radio is a podcast with episodes that, like good art films, you can return to again and again and always find details you missed. It’s the opposite of the radio documentary that assumes listeners are only half there; every bit of the story structure and every bit of the sound design is meticulously crafted, so you don’t want to miss a single detail. The show covers a broad range of people: a “humiliatrix”; a former bicycle racer and reformed bank robber; a black pianist who befriended and convinced KKK members to give up their robes; a writer with poetic voyeurism. Continue reading

Stories Don’t Argue With You: An Interview With Doug McGray of Pop-Up Magazine

By Sean McCoy

When I found Doug McGray after the Pop-Up Magazine show in Los Angeles on November 3, he was surrounded by a queue of eager attendees. They approached and he shook hands in bunches, chatting and fielding questions. His voice was hoarse by the time I pulled him aside, but what he lacked in his vocal cords he made up for with enthusiasm, seeming to channel the energy around us — the throng pressing close, vibrating with cheer, while people threaded the lobby in search of friends, performers, another drink from the bar. 
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It’s Okay to Be Scared, But Don’t Play Scared: An Interview with Helen Ellis, author of American Housewife

By Teddy Minford

“My bite is much worse than my bark,” says Helen Ellis, whose sweet voice, bubbly personality, and gracious manners, make her seem like your typical book club-hosting Upper East Side housewife. But once you read Ellis’s short story collection American Housewife, you learn that Ellis has a sharp tongue and a dark side. Speaking with her, I learned that she also has a penchant for gambling and a soft spot for reality TV, and that most of her villians (and heroes) are inspired by her own personality. Continue reading

Flung Into Orbit With April Ayers Lawson

By Luke B. Goebel

April Ayers Lawson’s first collection of stories, Virgin and Other Stories (out November 1st from Farar, Straus and Giroux), embodies anew the Southern Gothic, with its twisted, oft-hackneyed Christian traditions, sexual hunger, and isolated yearning. In today’s secular literary climate, transgressive and unnerving fiction from a Christian Southern author is a rare find — and rarer still is the quality of subjects and craft in these stories. Virgin and Other Stories emerges from a brilliant young mind, living open-eyed through transgression.  Continue reading

The 2016 Hong Kong International Literary Festival — A Q&A with Phillipa Milne

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

I’ve had the pleasure of participating in the Hong Kong International Festival in two past years, 2009 and 2015, and found doing so both times memorable. I am happy, therefore, to be heading off soon to be part of the next one, which runs from November 4 to November 13. My past festival activities have ranged from a dialog with Global Voices co-founder Rebecca MacKinnon on the perils and pleasures of “blogging”—back in the late 2000s when that term was only starting to be widely known, hence sometimes needed to be put in quotes—to a presentation eleven months ago, which I’ve written about for this site before, reflecting on the Umbrella Movement’s legacy one year on.   Continue reading

A Blank Page as Big as the World: An Interview with Vanessa Hua

By Olga Kreimer

Like the apocryphal frogs splashing in their warming water until the inevitable end, the characters in Vanessa Hua’s debut, Deceit and Other Possibilities, get into their predicaments first slowly, then very fast. Driven into impossible circumstances by hubris or ambition, desperation pushes them to try any exit. Though their troubles are specific, the unsettling sense of scaling walls too smooth for traction as the water starts to bubble is painfully familiar. That futility — the gaps between what Hua’s characters want and what they get to have — makes the reader root for the break-ins, gunshots, and fires that are their last resorts. It’s easy to recognize the desires that drive them, so even extreme measures feel like reasonable escalation when nothing else works. Continue reading

Text is Text: An Interview with Mauro Javier Cardenas

By Sam Jaffe Goldstein

Mauro Javier Cardenas’ formally experimental debut novel Revolutionaries Try Again, out September 6th from Coffee House House Press, probes the question of whether or not a novel should even be concerned with narrative. It suggests that, instead, it is the depiction of our internal minds that matters. An Ecuadorian expat who lives in San Francisco returns to Ecuador to attempt a run at the presidency with his friends from high school. But what follows is not a tale of political hijinx, it is an exploration into the interiors of the characters as they navigate their dark, cold worlds. Continue reading

More Daring than Didion: An Interview with Emily Witt

By Stef Hayes

What would Didion do? Emily Witt wonders in her 2015 essay “Are You ‘Internet Sexual?’” while deciding whether or not to broadcast herself to a sea of strangers on the sex cam site Chaturbate. Witt wants to understand what it is to be a woman online, but she’s hesitant, afraid her mostly middle-aged male editors might not take her seriously when they find out — and anyway, she’s dating someone. “Joan Didion would never have sex cammed,” Witt concludes, “she went to San Francisco in 1968 and didn’t even do acid.”

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We Have the Receipts: An Interview with Phoebe Robinson

By Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn

Amid the swell of white noise from the chattering, packed, standing-room only crowd of diverse hipsters at Skylight Books awaiting Phoebe Robinson, a conversation between two women sitting in the row behind me stands out — though it took no effort to eavesdrop. “Phoebe’s saving my life right now,” one stridently said. “Yeah, she tells it like it is,” the other replied, “like how you’d talk to your best friend.” Continue reading