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February 04, 2016
Renowned author Hanya Yanagihara launched the paperback version of her newest novel, A Little Life, on January 28 as the second installment of Brooklyn Voices, a series of conversations with an array of notable authors hosted by St. Joseph’s College. Written in only 18 months, the 720-page novel was discussed by Hanya with Isaac Fitzgerald, editor for Buzzfeed Books.
A Little Life depicts the life of four college friends as they become successful in their respective fields in New York City. In discussing the prevalent theme of friendship, Isaac Fitzgerald asked Hanya what she found so enticing about it. “Friendship is the most underrated relationship of our lives,” she responded. "It is the first act of relationship autonomy — you are essentially choosing a person. It is a powerful, unspoken agreement but in our society, it is considered a lesser relationship; there are no financial or sexual factors, and it is not modified by law." In a broad sense, Hanya regards A Little Life as a political novel for having an absence of institutionalized relationships.
Success is another central aspect of her novel and in addressing the reason for incorporating it so firmly, her answer was simple: “In New York, success loves success.” People come to New York to refashion themselves, and there is always a sense of running either to or from something. This ambition is what unites New Yorkers and evokes the fetishizing of success. In a sense, this success is a binding factor in the friendship of the four in A Little Life.
Author Hanya Yanagihara (right) with Isaac Fitzgerald, editor for Buzzfeed Books.
Hanya explained that she started her career in publishing, and attributed this intimate experience with the publication process to writing A Little Life in secret. She believed that announcing a book allows a certain vulnerability in leading the author to adopt a persona of what a writer “should be.” Working on her novel every day for 18 months, she did not recommend this frenzied state of writing, but began this novel while finishing her first and worked on it incessantly because she knew exactly where it was going. After the short year and a half she spent writing the novel, it too had been, ironically enough, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Although she sped through writing the novel, the process of publishing the story proved to be a contrasting experience. Because of the sheer length of the book, her editor wanted her to shed a third of it. Sensing that this was a business suggestion on marketing her book rather than an editorial suggestion on improving it, Hanya refused to cut the length of her novel for fear of compromising the quality. Their disagreements got heated at times but, sensing that the book would be a best-seller, her publishing house accepted Hanya’s tenacity and published A Little Life with all of its 720 pages.
Hanya regards the current literary world as the era of the “cool novel.” In a time of remote literature that has a certain disdain for emotion, she classifies her book as unfashionably and unapologetically emotional. She intended for it to be a story that grabbed the reader by the throat and sure enough, it took the literary scene by storm. Profoundly candid, unadulterated and thought-provoking, A Little Life quickly gained popularity — and is now available in paperback.
Be sure to attend our next event:
Thursday, March 3, 7:30 p.m.
Ken Corbett presents A Murder Over a Girl: Justice, Gender, Junior High
In conversation with Tony Kushner
Tickets $10 (includes event admission; can be applied to book purchase)