Nina Revoyr's Los Angeles

1 2 3 4 5

[p. 4 of 5]

[Revoyr continues]... that would not have been as strong if I was writing about my actual neighbor or my actual apartment building.

LRS: If you're trying to affect how the general public perceives those places, the timing worked out well because the The Necessary Hunger came out only a handful of years after the LA riots. Many people have this sort of solidified image of LA—of black LA—as an area of chaos and violence, so I was thinking that choosing those places does something politically too.

Revoyr: Right. I'm not sure I was conscious of that, but yes, I was very conscious of trying to show the humanly wonderful sides of parts of the city that people dismiss. This is the other thing—actually the area of Inglewood where the book is set is very much a middle-class area. So part of it [choosing Inglewood and Crenshaw] was also showing in both of these cases, yes there are some challenges, but there are also middle-class, affluent neighborhoods out there, and neighborhoods where just because you have a community of color it doesn't mean that there's going to be chaos and strife, that there's also some stability.

LRS: So you're not writing about some kind of generalized idea of Inglewood or Crenshaw, but very specific neighborhoods within it.

Revoyr: Right. And even in Southland, the reference in the prologue about the people who live in the hills, those who have the money but not the heart to leave the neighborhood completely, cross the boulevard and move into the hills—that's Baldwin Hills and View Park. That's a totally different class situation. In fact, a lot of folks who live there don't spend money on the neighborhood and send their kids to private schools or send their kids to Westchester. There's a very big class divide, even in that small area.

LRS: One of the things I appreciate about your writing in both books is that you address these issues, but in really subtle ways. You have Raina and Nancy driving through a friend's neighborhood and going silent as they observe that it's a much poorer, harder neighborhood than the one in which they live. When you're talking about what you just said, I remember that scene, but the socioeconomic point wasn't hitting me over the head. You do that really nicely in a lot of the scenes where you talk about interracial tensions. In meeting you and talking to you, your politics are really clear, but they're more subtly presented in your books, and I wonder if that's something you think about consciously.

Revoyr: Sure. You don't, if you're an artist—or a novelist, anyway—start with themes. You start with the particulars of a character or a place or a story. There's a wonderful quote from Flannery O'Connor—who, of course, always wrote about Catholicism, but you wouldn't necessarily know that if you didn't go into the story knowing it. What she said is if you can separate out the theme as a distinct element of a story, then you've got a bad story, because it takes all of the story to express what it is that you're trying to express—you can't take out separate elements of it. To me, the primary duty of being a writer or an artist is the art. If you want to be active politically, you do that too, but that is not the first function of your art. If something is a polemic, or a statement, then you should write a political paper and not an artwork.

Because my work in the real world outside of writing has been so political—it's been very directly related either to politics or to public policy—I know that in my non-writing time I actually am having an impact on the real lives of people. In my writing I'm really concentrating on the work itself. Obviously, my beliefs about the way that people should relate to each other, about disenfranchisement, or about race, come through. But the primary point of Southland is not trying to say something about the relationships of Japanese Americans and African Americans; it's trying to tell a story about Frank and Jackie, and the change in Jackie, and the mistakes of Frank, and the neighborhood.

It's false to say that art is removed from politics, and obviously my work can be classified as dealing with politics, but it's not the first thing you're thinking about. Have you seen the movie Lone Star?

LRS: Yeah.

Revoyr: I think Lone Star does a really good job of dealing with racial issues in a similar way, but even though obviously it's all about immigration and race and family and Latino-black-white relationships on the border, it is all told through the lens of a love story and mystery. It's very subtle in the ways that it deals with the more political and racial issues.

LRS: I marked some of those moments in your books. There's a really poignant and beautifully written passage near the end of The Necessary Hunger where Nancy talks about how she suddenly realizes that she's on parallel tracks with a lot of her teammates—

Revoyr: But different.

LRS: Yeah, and there's a real respect there, talking about how actually you can be friends and sympathize, but there's something about it—that somebody outside those other tracks can never understand. I wondered if that was a metaphor about being Asian or being mixed-race in some sense. But it could also be about so many other things. That's the really cool thing fiction can do that scholarly work doesn't do as much—to hide the writer's hand a little bit.

Revoyr: There's not a thesis in fiction. There should never be a thesis in fiction. Like O'Connor said, it should take the whole of whatever artwork you're doing to say what you're trying to say, but you also want your







  {buy the by}

purchase selected works by Nina Revoyr:



The Necessary Hunger

The Age of Dreaming

{download printer-friendly version of this interview}

home > interviews > nina revoyr
1 2 3 4 5

home | contact | about | terms | privacy

© copyright 2005 – 2014