The Power of Small Moments: A Conversation with Patricia Park

Café recently interviewed Patricia Park, who will join AU’s MFA faculty this fall– if we don’t lose her to the beguiling world of actuarial science.

CA: What are you drawn to write about?

PP: I write about minorities within minorities. It’s “bad” enough when mainstream America tells you you don’t belong. But what if that minority group you supposedly belong to doesn’t even claim you as your own? I explored this in my first novel, Re Jane — about a mixed-race Korean-American orphan who fits in neither here not there. My second novel is about a Korean-Argentine boy who comes of age during the Dirty War. I think characters on the fringe (of the fringe) offer unique insights on our world.

CA: What life experiences inform your writing?

PP: In high school I commuted 4 hours each day— to and from Queens and the Bronx. I spent a lot of time observing people on the trains instead of doing my calculus homework! I’ve also done invisible service jobs, and people can be surprisingly unguarded when you’re the help.

CA: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received or given?

PP: A novel is filled with small moments. That’s something Ha Jin, whom I studied with at BU, always used to say. The mishaps while waiting on line for the bus, at the grocery store, or other quotidian moments, reveal human character.

CA: What would you say to a poet who is apprehensive about taking a prose workshop?

PP: Prose writers have a lot to learn from poets–whether it’s a tightness in language or sharpening of an image, a sound, a moment. And it cuts both ways, yes? Exploring conventions traditionally associated with prose–dialogue, character development, dare I say “plot”–might imbue a poet’s work with something fresh and unexpected. My favorite example of this is Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate, a novel written in sonnets.

CA: What is your favorite book on craft?

PP: Believe it or not, it’s a super-prescriptive book called Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. It’s helpful for those tackling long-form prose.

CA: Which works do you feel are exemplary in the fiction and nonfiction genres?

PP: Ooh, a toughie! In fiction, maybe Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake? In nonfiction, I keep coming back to David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day.

CA: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

PP: In trying to answer this question, I actually took an actuarial science quiz. I got more than half the answers wrong, so there goes that career alternative.

CA: You’re stranded on a deserted island and you may bring one author, living or dead, and one book. Which author do you choose? Which book do you choose?

PP: Book: Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre– a no-brainer, seeing as my first novel is a loose retelling of it! It’s the book that keeps on giving.
Author: Hm, I’d care less about their literary sensibilities and more about their practical skill sets. Did any writers moonlight as carpenters? We’d really need someone who could build us a raft to get the hell out of there.

 

Patricia Park is the author of  Re Jane (Viking/Penguin Random House, May 2015), which is currently in development for a television series with Paramount and TV Land. She was born and raised in Queens, NY and graduated from the Bronx High School of Science. She received her BA in English Literature from Swarthmore College and her MFA in fiction from Boston University. Her essays have been published in The New York Times, Guardian, Salon, and others. Patricia Park is the American University MFA Program’s newest prose professor. This fall, she will be teaching Intro to Creative Writing. She’ll be teaching an Advanced Fiction workshop in the spring.

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