Sunday, 14/04/2024 08:40

From clerk to literary sensation: a writer adrift

Writer Nguyễn Ngọc Tư. — Photo bookish.vn

Writer Nguyễn Ngọc Tư, 48, currently resides and writes in Cà Mau Province. She has recently published a collection of prose titled Trôi (Adriftness), which delves into the lives of individuals who yearn for and pursue freedom but ultimately find themselves trapped in some way.

With her unique storytelling talent, Tư unveils an uncertain world in her work, where individuals strive to hold on to something while simultaneously longing to escape, embarking on an endless journey of drifting. Tư shares with Linh Đan insights about her life and creative process.

Inner Sanctum: Do the characters in "Trôi" attempt to escape the harsh realities of life in search of freedom elsewhere?

Yes, however, in the end, freedom proves elusive. The initial concept of this book revolves around individuals caught in a cycle of horizons, a group of people who move back and forth, convinced they can escape something but find themselves unable to do so.

‘Trôi’ of writer Nguyễn Ngọc Tư. — Photo bookish.vn

Inner Sanctum: Is their journey reflective of the author's personal experiences?

Not necessarily. I do not adhere to experimentalism prior to writing or rely on prototypes, thus underestimating my own imagination. If bestowed with such a precious gift, I feel compelled to nurture, refine, and tend to it diligently.

Inner Sanctum: Do you enjoy exploring the interplay between memory and its influence on one's current life?

Memories offer a myriad of fascinating subjects to explore, and they present numerous intriguing ideas upon examination. I believe people have various ways of handling memories, and each approach yields a distinct story. The elusive nature of memory is also a captivating topic for me.

Writer Nguyễn Ngọc Tư (right) and her reader. — Photo bookish.vn

Inner Sanctum: Does it seem that in your work, you have moved away from confining your characters, details, and settings solely to the southern riverine region, instead embracing a more expansive world?

Over the past decade or so, I have consistently expanded my horizons, striving to encompass a wide array of elements. Nonetheless, no matter how much an individual transforms, their essence remains intact. I also do not limit myself to any specific region or country in my writing. If people are at the core, regional concerns become secondary, serving merely as the backdrop.

Inner Sanctum: Do you intend to extend your literary focus beyond the southwestern region to encompass urban areas, which are often engulfed in dust and smog and carry equally mysterious and suffocating fates?

Perhaps. Presently, the challenge lies in my desire to incorporate the presence of nature, plants, and rivers into my writing. These elements play a role in shaping the destinies of individuals through rain and wind, and they prove challenging to incorporate into urban spaces.

Inner Sanctum: Your prose style has been noted by fans for its combination of literature and journalism, offering a clearer glimpse into your personal perspective and the realities of life. How do you view this particular style?

While I appreciate this style and acknowledge that it helps me earn a living (laughs), I try not to become too attached to it. Revealing too much of myself in writing prose or poetry makes me somewhat insecure. It feels more natural for my voice to emerge through the story and the characters, rather than forcefully inserting the writer's perspective.

Readers line up at Phương Nam Book Cafe waiting for writer Nguyễn Ngọc Tư's autograph. — Photo bookish.vn

Inner Sanctum: Do you consider literature as a means of hiding yourself, preventing others from truly "reading" you?

I believe the author's essence should be "read" through the story and the characters. All expressions should be embedded within them, and readers will recognise me naturally. It is the most authentic way to reveal the writer's true self.

Inner Sanctum: You have ventured into various forms of storytelling, including short stories, long stories, novels, prose, poems, and even illustrations. Which creative realm do you invest the most energy in?

I have a passion for words. However, as I mentioned earlier, I approach prose with caution. Living through writing means that sometimes I have limited choices, and I must do my best with the opportunities that arise.

Inner Sanctum: It appears that you are not particularly extroverted and do not actively seek out communication. Do you have many friends in the literary world?

I am open-minded, but only with a select few people. I enjoy communication, but I prefer smaller and more intimate settings. Not participating in social networks also limits my ability to make friends. Even if I do make friends, it can be challenging to maintain those connections over the long term. It's difficult for someone who leads a quiet life, who has few personal expressions or confidants, and who saves most of their thoughts for writing, to establish lasting friendships.

Inner Sanctum: It seems that despite many readers wanting to see and converse with you directly, you rarely engage in exchanges or appearances. Is there a reason for this?

I feel that anything I say beyond my written work would be redundant, including my physical presence. I find myself uncomfortable in quick and crowded interactions, as it doesn't truly reflect who I am.

Inner Sanctum: You describe your writing career as "boring", but many readers and aspiring writers find you incredibly captivating and wish to learn from you. What advice would you give to them?

When I describe my career as "boring", I refer more to my daily life as a writer. I lead a quiet life, with minimal social interactions, and I am often disconnected from current trends or news. That's why I find solace in writing. Through literature, in the worlds I create, my life becomes incredibly rich and vibrant.

For young writers, I consider them colleagues, and I believe that sharing should be an art form in itself, so others don't feel like they're being lectured.

Inner Sanctum: Looking back at your journey from a clerk at Cà Mau Peninsula magazine to a renowned writer whose every work has made waves in literary circles, what concerns you the most?

I regret not having much time for composing. My writing process is often dominated by the need to earn a living. I still yearn to explore my inner world more deeply.

Inner Sanctum: Do you have any plans to reach international readers with your work?

I don't have any specific plans in that regard. It's mostly a matter of chance. However, the fate of reaching international readers largely depends on translators. It's not just about me; whether Vietnamese literature can reach a wider audience or not depends on the translators.

Inner Sanctum: Are you confident that you can lead a healthy and prosperous life through writing?

Writing helps me earn a modest income in my small-town life. My needs are simple, so I manage to live comfortably.

Inner Sanctum: Do writers fear that one day they will run out of words, become emotionally drained, and have to stop writing?

I often ignore that assumption to avoid worrying or feeling insecure about the future (which remains uncertain). However, I am learning to align myself with nature. People grow old, their vital energy gradually diminishes, and they must contend with a tired body. Perhaps other fears will arise at that time, such as fear of illness or fear of death.

Inner Sanctum: I'm curious to know what books you often read.

I read everything – books from which I believe I can learn something. To me, reading is a form of learning. I don't read solely for entertainment or out of curiosity. I don't pursue books simply because I've heard they have issues or are controversial. Time is limited, so I choose books that can enrich my writing.

Even authors whom I consider to be from another planet, like Jorge Luis Borges or W.G. Sebald, teach me about the vastness of the literary world. VNS

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