Literary Hub

Meet National Book Award Finalist Jamel Brinkley

The 2018 National Book Awards will be held on Wednesday, November 14 at the 69th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. In preparation for the ceremony, and to celebrate all of the wonderful books and authors nominated for the awards this year, Literary Hub will be sharing short interviews with each of the finalists in all five categories: Young People’s Literature, Translated Literature, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction.

Jamel Brinkley’s A Lucky Man, a collection of nine stories that The New Yorker called “a trenchant exploration of race and class, vividly conveying the tension between social codes of masculinity and the vulnerable, volatile self,” is a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award in Fiction. Literary Hub asked Brinkley a few questions about his book and his writing life.

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What’s the best book you read this year?

It may be a book I’m currently reading in galley form: Lot, by Bryan Washington. Look out for it when it’s released next year! I also really loved The Friend by Sigrid Nunez and Other People’s Love Affairs by D. Wystan Owen.

Who was the first person you told about making this list?

Technically speaking, it was Lisa Lucas herself. I was watching AM to DM live when the finalists were announced. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing.

What time of day do you write (and why)?

When I’m working well, I write in the morning, and sometimes into the early afternoon. I write at home—cafes, libraries, and other public spaces don’t work well for me—and I like the comfort of my desk, with one of my coffee mugs, with some proximity to my dream life.

How do you tackle writer’s block?

If banging my head on my desk doesn’t work, I try to read other writers, just to immerse myself in language I love. Other strategies I may try out, because I”m having a particularly hard time writing right now, are timed writing and low-stakes writing.

Which book(s) do you return to again and again?

Some of the fiction I return to frequently includes Lost in the City and All Aunt Hagar’s Children by Edward P. Jones, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, The Point and The Dead Fish Museum by Charles D’Ambrosio, Stolen Pleasures by Gina Berriault, James Baldwin’s Collected Essays and Early Novels & Stories, and William Trevor’s Selected Stories. Don’t even get me started on poetry!

How does a man write on masculinity today? What are the challenges and rewards and considerations involved?

For me it involves close observation of and curiosity about actual men and boys in the world, interrogating on the small and local levels. In other words, I don’t try to directly tackle something as large and complex as masculinity. Still, the challenges might involve an inability or unwillingness to perceive and write about men with true honesty. In the end, I’m writing stories, so the rewards are hopefully a strong narrative, one that surprises even me, and some insight about my characters and about human behavior.

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