Discover the shortlist: Mieko Kawakami, ‘I grew up in a house with no books’

Shortlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize, Mieko Kawakami is the author of Heaven.

Kawakami began her literary career in poetry before she began writing novellas and novels. She talks about the significance of being translated into English and reveals the 19th-century writer who has had the biggest impact on her work. 

Mieko Kawakami

Written by Mieko Kawakami

What first inspired you to write Heaven?

I really wanted to show the fourteen-year-old narrator how the story ends.

What’s your earliest reading memory?

I grew up in a house with no books, so the earliest memory I have is my Japanese textbook.

What authors have made the biggest impact on your work?

The 19th-century writer Ichiyo Higuchi. One of the first women to become a professional writer in Japan.

Mieko Kawakami

I really wanted to show the fourteen-year-old narrator how the story ends

How does it feel to have your work translated for people in the English-speaking world to read?

It feels like going home, same as always, and opening the door to find all these people there: someone who feels like an old friend even though we’ve never met, someone who means the world to me but I can never see again, somebody crying, somebody laughing, people from far away — and I’m there, too. We don’t talk about anything special, but we’re all there, just sharing time. That’s how it feels.

Tell us a little-known fact about the book.

For some reason, when I was done writing it, I was three centimetres taller.

Tell us about a book that changed your life.

Growing Up (Takekurabe) by Ichiyo Higuchi.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

When you’re really in the zone, and you think you can keep going, it’s time to stop! (Save it for tomorrow.)