Katie Kitamura on the Discomfort of Calling Herself a Writer
In Conversation with Jordan Kisner on the Thresholds Podcast
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 new essay collection, Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
In this episode, Jordan talks to Katie Kitamura (Intimacies) about the process of writing, the challenge of calling yourself a writer, and being a slow-moving creature in a world that wants to go fast.
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From the episode:
Katie Kitamura: As a writer, it’s always interesting to think about channeling voices and how voices pass through you and what it means to have a voice. The words of other people—what it means to kind of hold them in your mouth and then to eject them again. I suppose on a more personal level, I’m actually not terribly comfortable with the position of authorship in some way. I’m not terribly comfortable even calling myself a writer. It’s something that I really struggle with, and first-person prose for a long time was really difficult for me for this reason, because it seemed to be a voice that carries so much authority, and authority is something that I really feel I don’t have.
And so to write characters who aren’t occupying a position of authorship feels very natural to me, and it feels like a space that I’m interested in exploring. In A Separation, the central character is a translator, but her husband, who is absent, he’s the one who’s a writer. He’s the one who’s incredibly comfortable being a writer. He’s comfortable being in the position of knowing. He’s comfortable showcasing and displaying his knowledge, and it’s really quite the opposite for her.
Jordan Kisner: I’m so startled to hear you say that you have a hard time even calling yourself a writer. What would you call yourself, if not a writer?
Katie Kitamura: Well, I think that’s a difficulty I really have. I always use this anecdote: for a long time when I was coming in and out of immigration, I would never write down writer on my immigration form. I would always write down something like teacher or something else. I mean, some of that, I suppose, is because for me, writing a novel is such a private—for a long time, less so necessarily as I carry on—but for a long time was an incredibly private thing for me, and it was something that I felt was very much only for myself. And I suppose there was even a certain element of shame to it. It felt like something that I would scurry off to a corner and do, and now it’s becoming easier for me to kind of step forward a little bit more. But it did feel like a very private and hidden thing, and that’s probably related to it as well.
Katie Kitamura’s most recent novel is Intimacies. It was recently named one of the New York Times‘ Top 10 Books of 2021 and it was also longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award and the Joyce Carol Oates Prize, and was a Barack Obama Summer Reading selection. Her third novel, A Separation, was a finalist for the Premio von Rezzori and a New York Times Notable Book. She is also the author of Gone To The Forest and The Longshot, both finalists for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award. Her work has been translated into nineteen languages and is being adapted for film and television. A recipient of fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and Santa Maddalena, Katie has written for publications including The New York Times Book Review, The New York Times, The Guardian, Granta, BOMB, Triple Canopy, and Frieze. She teaches in the creative writing program at New York University.