‘Why are you making up a story?’ Édouard Louis on the Ghosts at His Writing Table
In Conversation with Nadifa Mohamed on How to Proceed
How To Proceed is a bi-monthly conversation about writing, creativity and the world we live in. Author Linn Ullmann talks to some of the world’s most exciting literary voices about their books, their writing process, and how they view the world and current events around them.
Our guest in this episode is the French writer Édouard Louis, author of The End of Eddy. He talks about writing for your enemies, Black Lives Matter, Toni Morrison, and ghosts at the table. Talking to Louis is the British writer Nadifa Mohamed, one of three guest interviewers as Linn Ullmann takes some time off to finish her novel.
From the episode:
Édouard Louis: I would love to have a new life every day. Sometimes it makes me anxious to know that I go to my table and I write again and again every day. That makes me very anxious. I’m very jealous of happy writers. Like Simone de Beauvoir, she describes it in her memoir, or I guess Joyce Carol Oates, who writes so much. There are people who love writing, and they are happy to go at the writing table every day. And to be honest—I’m not complaining because writing is what I do—but I can’t say that I like it. I can just say that I am so bad at anything else, and I hope I’m a little bit less bad at writing. And so I do it. I have things to say, and that’s the only way I’ve found to say it. But I don’t wake up every day thinking, oh, it’s wonderful to be a writer. I wish I was something else.
Nadifa Mohamed: What do you wish you were?
Édouard Louis: So many things. I wish I was a dancer, but now I guess it’s too late, because if want to be a good dancer you have to start very young.
Nadifa Mohamed: Hip hop? Ballet? Jazz modern?
Édouard Louis: Ballet, because I’m very gay. I’m caricatural. I love the idea of being a ballet dancer in my caricatural mind.
Nadifa Mohamed: I think you have the same problem as Princess Diana. I think you would be too tall for ballet.
Édouard Louis: It’s not the only problem that I share with her. And also, when I was little, in order to make money to go to high school and to buy food and everything, I was selling bread in a bakery. And I loved it so much. I loved talking with the old ladies every day. They came in, picked the same things again and again, one day after the other, and we would talk about the weather. I loved it so much, and sometimes I feel so nostalgic. . . . It was Flaubert, I think, who said that he wanted to experience all the possible lives within a single life. And for me, it always had been a dream to experience all the lives within my own life. And in a way, now I’m trying to do it. Recently I’ve been experimenting with different things. I have been acting on stage. I have been working in the theater. I have been teaching. I always trying to find a way to escape my life.
Nadifa Mohamed: Don’t you think that being a writer allows you to live a different life every day, from the comfort of your own kitchen table?
Édouard Louis: I don’t feel this way. I don’t think so.
Nadifa Mohamed: Is that because of the material that you write? Because you could, if you wanted to, write as a pirate one day, as a ballet dancer another day, as a market stall holder on a different day. But that doesn’t call you?
Édouard Louis: That doesn’t work for me because I know that I will probably never be able to write fiction, and I will never be able to write novels. I am kind of trapped in my existence. I have things that I experienced and that I feel the urge to say. I feel like a pressure to talk about those things, the things that I explored in my books—homophobia, working class, poverty in France. And I feel that I can’t talk about anything else. It’s a very complex feeling, because every time I try to write about something else, I feel ashamed.
Nadifa Mohamed: Ashamed?
Édouard Louis: Yeah, I feel ashamed of fiction. And it’s not at all a rule of literature that I’m putting up. Most of the time, in fact, I read novels and I read fiction, I read your books and I read Toni Morrison’s books, I read so many books of fiction. But when I go to my kitchen table in order to write, if I try to to make up a story, to invent a story, to do a work as a fiction writer, immediately I have like ghosts from the past popping up. People that I personally knew and people who, because of my past and because of the milieu I belong to, they’re there. I saw a lot of people suffering and a lot of people experiencing and facing very difficult things. And if I try to write about anything else, I have the ghost of them, I have the ghost of their faces telling me, why don’t you write about us? Why are you making up a story?
Litteraturhuset in Oslo is Europe’s largest of its kind, dedicated to presenting literature in the broadest sense of the word. Since its opening in the fall of 2007, the house has welcomed authors from all parts of the world, and through readings, conversations, lectures and debates, it strives to open up for new horizons and perspectives on the society, the world and the people around us.
Born Eddy Bellegueule in Hallencourt, France, in 1992, Édouard Louis is a novelist and the editor of a scholarly work on the social scientist Pierre Bourdieu. He is the coauthor, with the philosopher Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, of “Manifesto for an Intellectual and Political Counteroffensive,” published in English by the Los Angeles Review of Books.
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