Asali Solomon on Writing Fiction as a Process of Discovery
In Conversation with Jordan Kisner on Thresholds
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the essay collection Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
In this episode, Jordan talks with Asali Solomon about The Days of Afrekete, the unexpected discovery that she’s a funny writer, and trying to impart wisdom to students while she’s still learning too.
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From the conversation:
Asali Solomon: I think a lot about this recently, and probably in relationship with trying to talk to the students—the things that I just didn’t know for years, and then the things that it’s not your job to know. Because you always want to be writing in a way that’s a process of discovery. When people talk about things like outlines, I don’t do anything like that. I write from a place of, okay, this little nugget of a scene interests me, so I’m going to write it, and in that way I will know what happens in the scene. I know very little about something when I sit down to write it; usually I just have an image.
What just occurred to me—and I don’t know anything about this personally—but if you’re trying to navigate a boat, you in some ways know very little about the ocean, the river, what’s going on there. And there’s only so much you need to know about it in order to keep moving. You have your mind on certain discrete and specific controls, and then the rest, you just don’t even need to know about it. Probably if you tried to control it more forcibly, you would get yourself in a bad situation. I feel a delicate balance between what you’re trying to control and what you’re just letting happen.
Asali Solomon’s first novel, Disgruntled, was named a best book of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle and The Denver Post. Her debut story collection, Get Down, earned her a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” honor, and was a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Her work has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, Vibe, Essence, The Paris Review Daily, McSweeney’s, and several anthologies, and on NPR. Solomon teaches fiction writing and literature of the African diaspora at Haverford College. She was born and raised in Philadelphia, where she lives with her husband and two sons.