Submitted by The Booker Prizes on Mon, 24/08/2020 - 12:00
How does it feel to have your debut novel longlisted for The Booker Prize?
I feel incredibly lucky, and like I woke up in some sort of dream. It’s surreal, honestly, because I’ve followed The Booker Prize for years now, and never imagined that I might one day have a book on the longlist.
Real Life is, as the title suggests, concerned with the microscopic, mundane details of everyday life. Does close observation play a key role in your writing process?
I think close observation is just how I make sense of the world. I don’t know how to be any other way. When something catches my attention, I want to look at it up close, from as many different angles as possible. I want to really crack it open. I’m a bit of an obsessive that way. I sometimes spend quite a bit of time thinking about seemingly boring things because just the act of thinking them over energizes me
Your protagonist is a queer, black man inhabiting the immensely white space of academia. What about this dynamic interested you?
Honestly, I’ve spent a lot of time in academia—first as a student and then later as an instructor and researcher. It’s full of human drama and intrigue. And in America, Academia is often considered a very liberal or progressive context, but I found it to be quite hostile at times. And I found myself among people who had a problem with my blackness or queerness, but they had no language to articulate that problem or it seemed impolite to articulate it as such, and as a writer, I can’t not be interested in something like that. That contradiction between stated values and enacted values. And also, I love campus novels, they never seem to provide space for queer black people. And it felt exciting to write a story in which someone like me got to have their say.
Which authors have influenced your own writing?
The writers who have been with me the longest are probably Mavis Gallant, André Aciman, Jane Austen, Alice Munro, Louise Gluck, Elizabeth Bishop, Hilton Als, and Pat Conroy. However, I’ve recently had my brain re-wired by Ann Petry, and it’s that exhilarating feeling of falling in love with one of your lifetime writers for the first time.
What can we expect from you next?
I have a short story collection called Filthy Animals, which I think will be out in the States next summer sometime.