Get To Know: Ayad Akhtar

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Ayad Akhtar is a novelist and playwright. Ayad narrates the audiobook editions of both Homeland Elegies and his debut novel, American Dervish. His work has been published and performed in over two dozen languages. He is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Homeland Elegies is a deeply personal work about identity and belonging in a nation coming apart at the seams. It flawlessly blends fact and fiction to tell an epic story of longing and dispossession in the world that 9/11 made. Part family drama, part social essay, part picaresque novel, at its heart it is the story of a father, a son, and the country they both call home.

I’d been putting together a picture of our nation for some time, a country riven by divides — racial, rural, and urban, but above all, a country haunted by money, by its worship and its almighty power. I encountered a poem by Giacomo Leopardi entitled “To Italy,” in which the poet addresses the Italian nation, his fellow citizens. I wondered if there was a voice possible in which I, too, could address my current American nation, as a whole, address my fellow citizens. The question ignited something in me, and within days, I was hearing what I imagined was such a voice. As I started to write, I found that the writing was increasingly pouring out of me, sometimes unbidden, paragraphs, and paragraphs almost without interruption. I would write for two weeks, writing into a state of exhaustion, and then stop for two more, waiting for the words to come back again. 11 months that lasted.

John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven.

Yes, a bench corner at the edge of the kitchen.

Shakespeare, of course. Not necessarily in order to converse—however much I might be tempted!—or pick his brain. More to get some sense of this singular writer. A sense of his movements, his banter, his voice. Was there, for example, a twinkle in his eyes that betrayed the unprecedented aliveness of this infinite spirit?

I’m ashamed to admit my reality TV habit, but I do love it. Home renovation shows on HGTV; Indian Matchmaking on Netflix.

Scorpio. I’ve been told it is. Intense and relentless. And that I have a tendency to sting when threatened. Not proud of it, but I do think that last part is probably true.

Adrian Tomine’s graphic novel, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist.

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