The Big Read Blog (Archive)


February 17, 2009
Washington, DC

Big Read author Cynthia Ozick has more than a dozen books to her credit including a short story collection, collections of essays, and novels. In this excerpt from the Reader?s Guide for The Shawl, Ozick talks about becoming a writer and the difference between working on fiction and on critical essays.

NEA: Did you always want to be a writer?

OZICK: Always. It was a destiny that I never had any alternative, or wished for any alternative. I simply knew it, always. But I never even thought of myself as a writer until I had published a certain basic body of work because it seemed to me that it was hubris. Who would take me seriously? So if someone asked, "What do you do?", it took me a long time before I could say, "I?m a writer."

NEA: What is the difference for you between writing fiction and writing criticism?

OZICK: If you?re going to write an essay, let?s say, about Henry James, you have a subject, and you know something. If you?re going to write fiction, you have nothing. You begin in chaos. You may have a smell, a scene, a word, an idea, an emotion. It seems to me that ideas and emotions are inseparable. Emotions may not always be ideas, but ideas are always emotions. In fiction you can come up with something that you never knew you knew.

Want to learn more about Cynthia Ozick and The Shawl? Go to The Big Read Web site to check out the Big Reads underway by Caldwell Public Library (Caldwell, New Jersey) and Gadsen Cultural Arts Foundation (Gadsen, Alabama) this February.