NBCC Autobiography Finalists in Conversation with New School MFA Students

by admin | Mar-09-2016

Thanks to the cooperation of the NBCC and Creative Writing at The New School, as well as the tireless efforts of their students and faculty, we are able to provide interviews with each of the NBCC Awards Finalists for the publishing year 2015.

Interview with NBCC Autobiography Finalist Margo Jefferson


Sincere Brooks, on behalf of Creative Writing at The New School and the NBCC, interviewed Margo Jefferson about her book Negroland (Pantheon), which is among the final five selections in the category of Autobiography for the 2015 NBCC Awards.

Sincere Brooks: The first line in Negroland is "I was taught not to show off." You go on to explain what the connotations of "showing off" are and then ask "But isn't all memoir a form of showing off?" Having written a memoir do you think you're showing off and is that okay in spite of the taboo?

Margo Jefferson: I was looking back wryly at all the negative connotations of “showing off”–being vain, self-centered, boastful; calling too much attention to yourself. It was seen as a kind of shallow hubris. As a writer, I hope–I think–I avoided those traps. And I hope I broke through the repressive underpinnings of “showing off.” It’s interesting, isn’t it, that girls in particular were cautioned not to show off? For a writer, self-scrutiny, the work of being emotionally honest, requires self-display. And it’s definitely not always flattering, which showing off is. In memoir you show yourself off andyou show yourself up. With all the writing skill you’ve got. That’s definitely okay.


Interview With NBCC Autobiography Finalist Vivian Gornick


Allison Moorer, on behalf of the Creative Writing at The New School and the NBCC, interviewed Vivian Gornick about her book The Odd Woman and the City (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), which is among the final five selections in the category of Autobiography for the 2015 NBCC Awards.

Allison Moorer: Congratulations on being a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for The Odd Woman and the City. It’s a wonderful book that I bought the minute it came out, and I want to thank you for it. How do you feel, generally, about writing awards?

Vivian Gornick: Thanks for the congrats. An old friend and fellow nominee (I've been nominated twice before) once said to me, "The talent is the nomination, the politics is in the award." So there you are. I'm very pleased to be nominated, and I'll let it go at that.


Interview With NBCC Autobiography Finalist Helen Macdonald

Julie Goldberg, on behalf of the Creative Writing at The New School and the NBCC, interviewed Helen Macdonald about her book H Is for Hawk (Grove Press), which is among the final five selections in the category of Autobiography for the 2015 NBCC Awards.

Julie Goldberg: 
Part of the magic of H is for Hawk is how alive your goshawk Mabel becomes—in her body and moods, in her power and playfulness. What was it like to write about her, years later, in such detail?

Helen Macdonald: Writing about her was much easier than writing about my father’s death, my family, or myself! I can recall my time with her that year with crystalline clarity. Grief does strange things to the workings of memory. Back then I wanted to assume her rapturous, wordless, hawkish mind, and I tried, as I wrote, to match my style to that imagined subjectivity. Short sentences to capture her world as a series of fleeting, present moments; lyrical passages to suggest the strangeness of the landscape through the eyes of a hawk.  I edited the hell out of most of the prose, but the sections about the hawk — what she was like, how she flew and hunted — they were written fast and hardly edited at all. I’m very sad to say Mabel died suddenly a few years ago of a fluke fungal infection called Aspergillosis that’s been the bane of goshawkers for centuries and kills many wild hawks too. She’s buried on one of the hillsides over which she used to fly. I miss her so much.


Interview With NBCC Autobiography Finalist George Hodgman


José García, on behalf of the Creative Writing at The New School and the NBCC, interviewed George Hodgman about his book Bettyville (Penguin Books), which is among the final five selections in the category of Autobiography for the 2015 NBCC Awards.

José García: Did you always intend to publish Bettyville, or did the project begin as a sort of journal for your own peace of mind?

George Hodgman: Somewhere between the two, really. I wrote the scene about my mother driving me to kindergarten, speeding down the road listening to the songs on the radio, just because. I was mourning her loss of her driver’s license, her independence, a part of herself that I loved. For some reason, I put it on Facebook. It got a lot of Likes and Shares and then, because I am a ham and an Approval Junkie, I had to write another. Soon I had a little pile of them, enough to make me start thinking of what they could grow up to be.


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