Art Works Blog

It's All About the Books with NEA Creative Writing Fellow Angela Flournoy

It is a truth universally acknowledged that in the heart of every devoted writer lurks a devoted reader. And 2018 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow Angela Flournoy—who garnered an avalanche of praise for her debut novel, The Turner House—is no exception. Flournoy very kindly agreed to tackle our book-themed questionnaire, which asked her to reveal everything from what's in her "to read" pile to what book made her want to be a writer to the book she wants to give to everyone she knows, and more. Check out what she had to say and then read an excerpt from The Turner House here

NEA: What’s the book that turned you into a committed reader?

ANGELA FLOURNOY: C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia were the first books that I remember truly enthralling me. I read all of them over one year of school.

NEA: What book made you want to become a writer?

FLOURNOY: I always wanted to be a writer, since my earliest memories of reading. It seemed the best way to ensure that reading remained a central part of my life. So it was probably a children’s book, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

NEA: Which books are sitting in your “To Read” pile at the moment?

FLOURNOY: The best thing about being an author is all of the books you get to read before they’re out. My to-be-read pile currently includes In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow, A Particular Kind of Black Man by Tope Folarin, and The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell, all due to be published in the next few months. On the currently-available side are If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim, Lot by Bryan Washington, and The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison, which is a collection of her nonfiction over four decades.

NEA: How do you decide what to read? By how you feel, what’s getting buzz, what’s recommended, etc.?

FLOURNOY: There are books that I very much want to read based on a feeling I have about them—I gravitate toward the subject matter, or the writer is someone whose work I admire. Then there are books that trusted friends put in my hands and implore me to read. Finally there are many, many books that are not newly published, usually decades old, that somehow pull me toward them. I often end up learning the most from this last set.

NEA: Which books would you say taught you how to write?

FLOURNOY: A very incomplete list: The Known World by Edward P. Jones, Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston, On Beauty by Zadie Smith, As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño, Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, We the Animals by Justin Torres, Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall, and the Bible.

NEA: Toni Morrison has famously said she wrote the book she wanted to read. What kind of book would you want to write because it’s what you want to read?

FLOURNOY: I can’t write anything that I wouldn’t want to read—I get bored very quickly. That being said, I’m interested in writing books that illuminate something about the everyday lives of the characters within them.

NEA: If you could give one book to everyone you know, what would it be?

FLOURNOY: Beloved by Toni Morrison.

NEA: What book(s) do you find yourself regularly rereading?

FLOURNOY: I try to reread Beloved and The Known World once a year.

NEA: If you had to give up all your books except for ones by a particular author, which author would you choose?

FLOURNOY: This is a sad prospect indeed. I can’t choose!

NEA: If you owned a bookstore, what five books would be in your display window right now?

FLOURNOY: Certainly contemporary books by women. Magical Negro by Morgan Parker, Severance by Ling Ma, Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, and An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon.

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