On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” is a startlingly powerful portrait of the immigrant experience — and an unflinching dissection of tragedy and trauma, large and small.

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Every so often you read a novel that leaves you a little breathless. A novel so darn good that it haunts you like a bruised rib, reminding you of the power of fiction, the potential it has to move, connect, provoke, and bear witness.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, the debut novel by Ocean Vuong, is one of these. Vuong has already gained much critical acclaim with his debut poetry collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds. His first foray into fiction will surely result in more of the same.

Styled as a letter by the protagonist, Little Dog, to his illiterate mother, the novel traces this Vietnamese boy’s journey to early adulthood in gritty Hartford, Connecticut. …


The renowned travel writer explains why he gave up on an African adventure.

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Paul Theroux in a photo by William Furniss.

My phone is ringing. It’s Paul Theroux. I’ve just come out of the toilet at the Royal Horse Guards Hotel. There are about three minutes till my interview with the travel writer is due to begin. Theroux tells me he hasn’t had lunch, so he’s going to eat while we chat; he says he’s in the restaurant. I hang up. Jot down one final question in my notebook and head into the restaurant. There’s an older gent, don’t think it’s him, no, go further in and spot him.

“Paul?”

He’s a little man, shrivelled by travel and the demands of promoting his latest book — The Last Train to Zona Verde — in London. Though one can only imagine that flogging copies to rapt audiences here is helluva less demanding than the Angolan bus trips his travelogue describes. …


“I had no intention of writing about childhood or Kentucky in the 90s or being a queer person there…”

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What Belongs to You is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time — so brilliant, so haunting, piercing open some private, tender part of myself with a painful precision that, at times, made it difficult to read.

When I heard its author, Garth Greenwell, was coming to Cape Town for the annual Open Book Festival, I knew I had to meet the man who wrote it. I meet him in the lobby of his hotel; we head out into the breezy sunshine in search of a lunch spot. In the end, we settle for an Italian restaurant overlooking Cape Town’s Bree Street. …


“I have some basic urge to communicate levels of feeling — things from the nervous system, and from memory, to other people.”

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Colm Tóibín in a photography by Steve Pyke.

The Irish master discusses the creative impulse, his writing process, and why he finally started writing about queer characters.

It’s almost 5, an April afternoon. I stride into Columbia University’s nearly deserted Philosophy Hall, and climb the stairs, heart thudding from exertion, or nerves, or both. Colm Tóibín is on the sixth floor, waiting for me behind a big desk in his little office. Ahead of my New York visit, a mutual friend put us in touch, and he’s agreed to an interview.

His bibliography bulges with reportage, essays — but it is his fiction that has enthralled me the most. …


“In fiction you have an obligation to show representative characters… you don’t just want to show a bunch of freaks.”

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Edmund White. Photograph by Andrew Fladeboe.

Before my interview with Edmund White, I walk along the High Line in Chelsea. I do this partly because it is my first time in New York City — and a stroll along the High Line is the kind of thing one does on your first time here. But partly, too, because I’m gnawingly nervous: looming ahead of me is a conversation with one of the greatest gay writers on the planet and I’m not sure I feel up to the task.

I first discovered White in the Cape Town Central Library, when, as an 18-year-old, I was hungrily searching the stacks for gay sex scenes. Some thoughtful (and presumably queer) sod had labelled the spine of every vaguely homoerotic book in the fiction section with a pink triangle — this helped my quest inordinately. Under “W”, there was White’s luminous, exquisite (and incidentally not-very-explicit) novel, A Boy’s Own Story. Much later, I read his personal memoir, My Lives, and what was then his most recent novel, Jack Holmes and His Friend. …


The award-winning gay author Damon Galgut reflects on the compulsion behind crafting stories — and what it means to be a “real” novelist.

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Damon Galgut photographed in his home by Michaela Verity.

It is a silvery, windy day, not cold, in Cape Town. Damon Galgut has let me into his apartment. I glance around at the clutter and the drying laundry while he makes me tea. It is clear that international acclaim hasn’t exactly made the twice Man Booker-shortlisted author lavish — which I rather like. It has, however, given him the financial flexibility to spend four “laborious” years working on his novel, Arctic Summer, which was published in 2014.

Mug in hand, I follow him to a neighbouring flat, which he owns too. …


The screenwriter/novelist and Alex Rider creator discusses the creative process and offers advice for young writers.

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The London-based writer Antony Horowitz has written more than 40 books; his much-loved Alex Rider adventure series has sold over 19 million copies. The creator of the TV series Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War, Horowitz has been awarded an OBE for services to literature. He’s written also acclaimed Sherlock Holmes novels (The House of Silk and Moriarty) as well as two officially authorised James Bond books (Trigger Mortis, and Forever and a Day).

Your website describes you as “a born polymath” — you write books, TV series, film, plays and journalism. How do you juggle everything?

I have basic house rules — for example I would never work on two or three different things on one day. It’s a question of compartmentalising and being completely immersed in whatever the work is at the time. …


An interview with the late novelist Nadine Gordimer.

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Nadine Gordimer photographed by Sophie Bassouls.

The late Nadine Gordimer discusses her final novel, banned books and her life’s big regret.

I am standing in a quiet street in Johannesburg’s Parktown, outside high white walls, topped by mean black electric wiring. There is no doorbell; just two gates. Fortunately, there is the sound of unlocking; one starts whirring open.

Nadine Gordimer comes out into the driveway of the home she’s lived in since 1958. She is tiny, a little wizened, but still beautiful, elegant. Her Weimaraner, Bodo (“a German name for a German dog”), struts around her feet, silvery and sleek. …


Conversations with authors to intrigue and inspire.

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It’s been a great privilege to interview many talented authors over the last decade. I’m struck by how these conversations — and the themes they traverse — are often timeless, holding lessens and insights rewarding for both readers and writers even years after they occurred.

That’s why, I’ve decided to create a new home for them on Medium, under the moniker, The Last Word. It seems a pity for them to languish in obscure corners of the internet or the furthest reaches of the internet when there’s a good chance they may still intrigue and inspire.

The interviews will be published regularly in the coming weeks.

Enjoy!


“It was a new thing to do — to write from a gay point of view.“

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Alan Hollinghurst. Picture: (c) Robert Taylor.

I look up nervously from my spot on the terrace of the Mount Nelson Hotel. It is cloudy and the table is speckled slightly by rain. But it is not just the weather that concerns me. Interviewing a favourite author poses a terror greater than when you don’t know enough about your subject. There is the sense of inadequacy, of the “right” questions being elusive. The possibility that you’ll be disappointing (or that he will) is inescapable.

I first encountered Hollinghurst’s writing in my high school library when the Englishman’s fourth novel, The Line of Beauty, won the Booker in 2004. As the first gay-themed book to win the prize, it was a sign of either the librarian’s naivety or liberality that it made it onto the shelves. I was grateful regardless. While his depiction of Tory excess and the encroaching devastation of the Aids epidemic in 1980s London was haunting, the book’s frank portrayal of sexual relations between men offered me some kind of solace: it took me beyond the conservative confines of suburbia (and an all boys’ school in which homosexuality remained very much taboo), into a world of possibility and openness — an assertion that somewhere there were others like me, able to live freely. …

About

The Last Word

Books That Matter | Authors in Conversation

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