Alan Cheuse reviews Sheila Heti's How Should A Person Be? for NPR
Sheila Heti Reads An Excerpt from 'How Should A Person Be?' for America Public Radio's 'The Dinner Party.'
Where are you from?
Who are your favorite writers?
Kierkegaard, Oscar Wilde, Paul Bowles, Jane Bowles, Dostoevsky, Jhumpa Lahiri, Kurt Vonnegut, C.S. Lewis, Henry Miller, Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett, Joe Orton, Martin Buber.
Which book/books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles, Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles, Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, the plays of Chekhov, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, I Love Dick by Chris Kraus, Under the Roofs of Paris by Henry Miller, My Friends by Emmanuel Bove
What are your hobbies and outside interests?
I don't have any. I write all the time. I love to write and work and collaborate with my friends and start projects, like Trampoline Hall.
What is the single best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
I once read Jean Cocteau say, in a Paris Review Interview, "It takes great courage to be original! The first time a thing appears it disconcerts everyone, the artist too. But you have to leave it—not retouch it. Of course you must then canonize the "bad." For the good is the familiar. The new arrives only by mischance. As Picasso says, it is a fault. And by sanctifying our faults we create."
What is the question most commonly asked by your readers? What is the answer?
With regards to this book, they ask how much is fiction and how much is fact, or which parts are fiction and which parts are fact, but I think the way we see our lives (in our imaginations) is of course a blend of fiction and fact, and the book is fiction and fact in the same measure as our lives are, to ourselves.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I have written since I was a child… there was never anything else, after the age of 15 or so, I wanted to do. But anyway, when I was writing The Middle Stories, I didn't know what I wanted to write about but I knew that I wanted to write. I figure the way to do it was just to write, even if I didn't know the "about," part, and that in time – maybe in ten years! – the "about" would come. A lot of people say the stories in The Middle Stories don't seem to be "about" anything, even if they have a lot of emotion and power. I was trying to turn myself into a "writing machine," so I wrote hundreds of stories at the time, just one after the other, without stopping. To make the book, I just picked the 30 best ones, but when I was writing, it was not with a book in sight. That came later, after McSweeney's published a few stories of mine; a publisher contacted me and wanted to see if I had more; if they could be made into a book. That happened in my life (a book) a lot sooner than I expected it would. I was twenty-four when it was published. Five years later I published my second book, and five years later my next three (the children's book, the essay collection with Misha, The Chairs Are Where the People Go and How Should a Person Be?)
Where do you write?
Anywhere. Usually at home.