|Born||Hanya K Yanagihara
September 20, 1974
Los Angeles, California
|Occupation||Author, writer, journalist|
|Alma mater||Smith College|
|Notable works||A Little Life (2015)
The People in The Trees (2013)
If the only thing you knew about Oman was its location, you might never go at all.
One of the writers I most admire is Hilary Mantel because in the middle of her career, she just changed paths entirely and became just a totally different novelist.
We think of writing a book as a process, but the very word – process – suggests that there is one: a template to follow, a map to guide us. If that were true, someone would have surely figured out some marketable method we could all buy.
We imbue deserts and the tundra with menace because nothing, or little, grows there.
From 1999 through 2001, I was an editor at a now-defunct magazine about the media industry called 'Brill's Content' that eventually merged with a now-defunct website about the media industry called Inside.com.
Writing is, by its nature, interior work. So being forced to be around people is a great gift for a novelist. You get to be reminded, daily, of how people think, how they speak, how they live; the things they worry about, the things they hope for, the things they fear.
I think that fiction writers can write about anyone. If you are writing a character, and the only thing they are to you is their otherness, then you haven't written a character.
Friendship is one of our most treasured relationships, but it isn't codified and celebrated; it's never going to give you a party.
I have never wanted a family. I don't believe in marriage, though I obviously believe it should be legal for everyone who wants to do it. But it is not something I believe in, nor do the characters in my book, nor do any of my friends.
I think anything goes in fiction as long as it fits within the interior logic of the work itself and is presented in a disciplined manner.
I've always thought that one of the least successful encounters is meeting a writer one admires. For one thing, writers are generally much kinder, more empathetic, more generous people on the page than they are in person.
When we think of India, most of us are in fact thinking of Rajasthan, that large splotch of dun-colored desert in the country's northwest which, from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, was ruled by a succession of maharajas whose sense of color, opulence, and splendor created the most enduring images of India in the West.
We tend to talk about death as if it is losing a battle, but that assumes living is winning and dying is not.
I think I passed up a lot of opportunities for love because I was too interested in identity politics.
So much of writing isn't the fun parts like we get to discuss. It is sitting there putting the words down.
I think fiction writers should work. If you have a job and are not living off advances or grants, you never have to make concessions in your writing, ever.
I have only a few really enviable skills, but packing – condensing just the right amount of stuff into a single bag, whether the trip is for a weekend or, as in this case, seven weeks – is one of them.
I took a 51 day trip through Asia; 12 countries and 26 cities. I traveled for 51 days. So, it was everywhere from Sri Lanka and that all the way to Japan, where we ended it.
The only difference between a good writer who publishes a book and a good writer who doesn't is that the writer who publishes actually finished her book.
Kashmir, the 86,000-square-mile region in India's north, both is and isn't the India of the popular imagination.
Sometimes we all work so hard to overcome various things, and we are very cruel as a society and tough on people who we think aren't trying hard enough.
My father was a research doctor at the National Institutes of Health in the early 1980s, and you couldn't work in the field and not know about D. Carleton Gajdusek, who my father often mentioned.
In Mumbai, the air is saltier. The sea is roilier. The traffic is snarlier. The pinks are pinker. The ostentation is crazier.
In a basic sense, 'A Little Life' is a homage to how my friends and I live our lives. I wanted to push past the definitions of how we typically define friendship. It's a different version of adulthood, but it's no less important and no less legitimate than anyone else's.
I think Bhutanese food – long dissed by every food writer out there – has gotten a bum rap.
The process of being a writer is much more interior than being a scientist, because science is so reactionary.
The first thing many tourists see in Hawaii is concrete – a long dreary stretch of it through landscapes dominated by sad, cheap apartment buildings and almost entirely denuded of plant life.
We think of the 1950s as an oppressive time in the culture, and indeed it was, but it was also in many ways a more secular moment, and one in which great scientific achievements flourished. I don't want to get too gauzy about this, but there was much more respect for science as a necessary part of society.
Florence is perhaps best known for being the seat of Renaissance art, and rightly so: A greatest-hits collection of artists passed through its streets – Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, and Brunelleschi among them.
Photography is always a kind of stealing. A theft from the subject. Artists are assaulters in a lot of ways, and the viewer is complicit in that assault.
Hong Kong has plenty of superlative hotels, amazing food, and cool shopping.
I don't believe in post-racial or post-gay or post-anything, but I do think within a certain group of friends, what matters less is the specificities of race and sexuality, and what matters more is the shared experience, shared language and shared cultural touch points.
There is something uniquely American about the motel: It speaks to the transient nature of America itself, one enabled and encouraged by our roads and highways.
Every traveler knows too well the endless quest for the perfect travel bag: the one that's stylish enough to carry through Paris, sturdy enough to tote around Peru, and – most important – doesn't make your shoulder sag even before you've loaded it up with everything you need for a day of sightseeing.
Eating local is a relatively new concept in American dining; for the Italians, it's a way of life.
I wanted to write a story about colonization and about Hawaii. I went to college right at the height of identity politics, and that's how I always read 'The Tempest,' for example.
Go to any Shinto temple in Japan and you'll see it: a simple stand from which hang hundreds of wooden postcard-size plaques with a colorful image on one side and, on the other, densely scribbled Japanese characters in black felt-tip pen, pleas to the gods for help or succor.
Unlike Milan, Italy's banking capital, or Rome, its religious center, Florence was the place where the rich went to buy goods that would showcase how wealthy they were.
There comes a point when you're writing a novel when you're in it so deep that the life of the novel becomes more real to you than life itself. You have to write your way out of it; once you're there, it's too late to abandon.
Jaipur, like Florence or Kyoto, other artisan-rich cities to which it roughly compares, has always been known for its craftsmanship.
What any writer hopes for is that the reader will stick with you to the end of the contract and that there is a level of submission on the reader's part.
Even before it opened its retail arm, Beigh was renowned among pashmina cognoscenti for the quality and complexity of the work produced in its workshop, a large, airy, sunlit rectangle of a room directly across from its second-floor shop.
I wrote my second novel, 'A Little Life,' in what I still think of as a fever dream: For 18 months, I was unable to properly concentrate on anything else.
When you write a novel, you never have to be in the service of the reader. My only concern with my books is that the world that's created be as logical and whole as possible.
Any frequent visitor to Hawaii is fixated on mapping how the islands have changed since their last visit.
I don't think that genius goes hand in hand with being socially inept or being a sociopath or being a misanthrope, but I do think that it is a mind that can think so differently – so beyond how one is supposed to think.
No religion makes more use of color than Hinduism, with its blue-skinned gods and peony-lipped goddesses, and even the spring festival of Holi is focused on color: Boys squirt arcs of dyed water on passersby or dump powder, all violently hued, on their marks.
Where most of the country is, well, hot – from the bone-baking dry heat of the desert to the flesh-melting humidity of Kerala in the south – Kashmir is cool: so cool, in fact, that in the winter, the temperatures can sink to sub-zero.
The nice thing about publishing later in life is that you already know who you are. You don't have to hang out with the 'Paris Review' crowd to try to make yourself feel like a legitimate writer.
Anyone who has been to India – specifically Rajasthan, the rich and kingly region in the country's northwest – knows that when it comes to adornment, Indians do not think like other people.
There's something nice and intimate about having a book. You know that someone's actually gone on this journey. You know that someone has actually researched and reported all these things. You can see and hear their tone in what they chosen to include and what they haven't.
Those of us lucky enough to fall in love with Asia know that it's an affair that's as long as it is resonant.
Misanthropy is born, I think, out of an almost oppressive sense of loneliness, a conviction that there's no one on earth who understands you. I don't think misanthropes hate people: They hate that people hate them.
The term 'pashmina' is often used interchangeably with 'cashmere,' but in reality, pashmina is a specific type of very fine, lofty cashmere, woven from a specific type of goat – one indigenous to northern India, Nepal, and Pakistan, and harvested and woven there as well.
The first thing I do whenever I go to Thailand is seek out the closest restaurant or stall selling mango-and-sticky rice: it's a little hillock of glutinous rice drenched in lashings of coconut milk and served with fresh mango.
I think at first I didn't tell anyone I was writing something because I found so tedious the people who did.
I go to Japan every November on vacation, and the one thing I never return home without is yuba, which is the thin skin that forms atop boiling soy milk. You skim it off and either eat it fresh or dry it.
I live in Soho in lower New York; there's tons and tons of tourists right outside my door step, obviously. Most of them are European, and all of them have guidebooks. I never see anyone looking at a phone.
In novels, and American novels in particular, it's not just about redemption, it's about forward movement and healing oneself. Americans are very big on getting better.
I think there are patterns of the aftermath of colonization that you see echoed in cultures and communities across the world.
I was born in L.A., then we moved to Hawaii, then we moved to New York, then we moved to Baltimore, then we moved to California, then we moved to Hawaii, then we moved to Texas, then we moved to Hawaii, then we moved to California. This was before I was 17.
The speed limit on most of Maui's highways is forty miles per hour, but my mother never went above thirty.
You see a virus very differently when it's caught and suspended on a slab of glass than when you're observing how it's ravaged a fellow human being.
I love how Vietnamese cuisine always tastes like flowers, and how they had the ingenious idea of pairing that floral flavor with seafood: such a combination shouldn't work as well as it does.
One of the fun things about unreliable narrators is they can be funny. You can admire things about them and laugh with them.
Sometimes, of course, there's no quick way to make it through immigration: Different airports have gluts of incoming flights at different times of day, and short of rearranging your flight schedule to ensure you'll land at a low-traffic hour, there's nothing you can do.
Once you join the queue for the immigration line, pay attention to what the expeditor tells you. Have your papers ready. Don't have your cell phone out. Take off your hat. Open your passport to the page with your photo and present it to the immigration officer already open.
I think for a lot of people, friendship is a relationship that gets devalued once they move on to what people consider to be more important relationships: once you find a partner or when you have kids.
What makes a fulfilling relationship or fulfilling life is not simply found in another. It's found in a group of others.
One of the things I'm fascinated by as a traveler is watching how different countries control how they let the world encounter them.
Publishing is a business, and I completely understand it. But when you don't have to depend on writing for your identity or your income, you can do whatever you want.
Between their rise in the thirteenth century and their sudden fall in the seventeenth, when the line abruptly ended, the Medicis produced three popes, two queens, and many Florentine rulers, and they supported the work of Galileo, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Botticelli – a veritable parade of geniuses.
I do have the sense that, although there may be no one way to write a novel, there are many novelists who are in fact part of some sort of larger literary community, whether in the form of a writing group or an MFA program, to name two of the more common forms.
Be aware of who in your life is actually interested in hearing you discuss your writing, and who's just asking to be polite. Listening to writers talk about their work is often excruciatingly dull.
It's a funny thing about cities: Some have brief, bright moments of cultural and political dominance, decades- or centuries-long spells when they seem the center of their particular nation, or region, or empire… only to later fall into obscurity and disrepair, never to regain their former glory.
Of course, no one has enough time to see every shop that Mumbai has: That would take more lifetimes than even the gods could offer.
The original Grand Tour would generally begin in Belgium or the Netherlands before moving through Paris, Geneva, Spain, Italy, and perhaps Greece.
Although both of us were raised on Oahu, in Honolulu, my mother has always had fond memories of Maui; this was, after all, where she and my father, then penniless yet oddly optimistic newlyweds, honeymooned in 1969.
I was interested about how relationships change as you get older. You are great friends in your 20s. In your 30s, you get married. Your 40s are all about your kids. In your 50s, you get divorced, and your friendships become primary again.
I think that all research scientists think of themselves as belonging to a grand tradition, building on work that has been worked on since the very beginning of science itself. Whereas I'm not sure writers think of themselves in the same way.
The beauty of a Moroccan riad is undeniable, but even the most die-hard fan may find herself growing a little weary of what can come to feel like a one-size-fits-all aesthetic: tilework, white Berber rugs, woolen tribal throw pillows in reds and ochers, cut-metal lanterns.
I'd be far too self-conscious and insecure if I suspected my editor might be a better novelist than I.
I always wanted to be a scientist. I don't really have any writer friends.
I wanted to see how flavors, spices, and grains traveled back and forth along the Silk Road and were interpreted by a multitude of cultures' palates.
I really don't have anything urgent to say, and I think you shouldn't write unless you have something urgent to say. Sometimes that troubles me, and sometimes I don't really care.