Interview With Nayomi Munaweera

Nayomi Munaweera’s debut novel, Island of a Thousand Mirrors was long-listed for the Man Asia Literary Prize and the Dublin IMPAC Prize. It was short-listed for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and the Northern California Book Prize. It won the Commonwealth Regional Prize for Asia. The Huffington Post raved, “Munaweera’s prose is visceral and indelible, devastatingly beautiful-reminiscent of the glorious writings of Louise Erdrich, Amy Tan and Alice Walker, who also find ways to truth-tell through fiction. The New York Times Book review called the novel, “incandescent.” The book was the Target Book Club selection for January 2016. Nayomi’s second novel, What Lies Between Us was hailed as one of the most exciting literary releases of 2016 from venues ranging from Buzzfeed to Elle magazine. Her non-fiction and short fiction are also widely published.

1. Hello, would you like to introduce yourself to the audience and tell us a bit about your background?

I was born in Sri Lanka, grew up in Nigeria and have lived in California since the age of 12. I live in Oakland, California.  
2. What inspired you to write ‘What Lies Between Us’?

My first novel, Island of a Thousand Mirrors told the story of the civil war in Sri Lanka through the points of view of two women going through it. It was the story of a nation coming into being and thus a big story with lots of characters. For my second I wanted to hone in on the psych of one particular character and tell her story from the inside out. This book is the story of a woman who has committed a terrible crime, it’s her confession and her attempt to tell the story her way. I wanted to humanize her despite the terrible act she’s committed, to say everyone deserves a chance to be heard and understood.
3. How does it feel to have successfully written two novels which have been loved by all audiences?

It feels pretty great. But the thing about writers is that we are rarely ever satisfied. I’m now deep in the writing of a third book and much more involved with the struggle of writing it that paying attention to my first two books. I think this is how we keep pushing on to better and better work- there has to be a feeling of dissatisfaction, otherwise I’d never have to write another book again-which would be great because writing books is hard! I don’t think people realize that every sentence in each book has been written and rewritten over and over and over again. There is a saying, “Easy reading is hard writing.” If the book flows and is easy to read, it means the writer killed themselves to make it like that. I hope readers understand this. 
4. What has been your greatest achievement in life?

Publishing two books “which have been loved by all audiences.” 🙂 Hopefully beyond this being a relatively kind person, someone who pays attention to others and to the world, and is curious about how it works. I don’t always succeed in this but I try. 
5. What is your advice to the aspiring authors?

Read a lot, everything you can find, the good books and the bad. Write a lot. Have a journal and write in it daily about anything and everything. Be aware of the unseen things- that other people don’t pay attention to, moods, emotions, colors,nature, moments of beauty, moments of cruelty- see it all, record it. Don’t show your work to anyone for a long time- you are developing your voice and input too early can really damage that. Be very patient. If you keep doing this work, soon you will get better, folks that started along with you will drop out and go to law school or something, keep doing it and you will get better, that’s guaranteed. Writers unlike anyone else (musicians, athletes) get better with age so be patient and work hard, hard, harder. Be gentle with yourself. Writing is beyond anything else a spiritual practice- you have to open to the unseen, the secret world all around us- this only comes with an open mind and an wide open, vulnerable heart- this can hurt a lot- so be nice to yourself. 

I had so much fun doing this interview with Nayomi Munaweera, hope you guys like reading it too! She’s an amazing writer and author of the book I read a few weeks ago ‘What Lies Between Us’ 


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